The Dangers of Teen Social Networking Addiction

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Researchers have uncovered dramatic findings about how connected our children are.

On average in the U.S., a child between 8 and 18 spends 8 to 11 hours a day communicating or exposed to some sort of media; whether it's cell phones, the Internet or TV, it's virtually every waking moment outside of school.

A study found that 1 of every 10 middle and high school students, has been found to be addicted to the Internet, and the growing problem's prompting parents, teachers and students to search for answers on how to stop it.

Mariah Boost doesn't tally up the hours she spends on Facebook, but said it's probably close to three a day.

She doesn't see herself as addicted. But if you count texting, social networking is what she does most, second only to school.

Boost says, "I try and do it all the time, even when I'm half awake... yeah, I've like sleep-texted before."

Doherty High School student Nate Greco knows he has overdone it at times, when he's spent 4 to 5 hours doing MySpace. His friend, Autumn Cowan, admits it can be tempting to spend time on the computer.

She says it's a mental thing, questioning "Yeah should I sit on the computer all night or should I get up and do homework?"

We spent several days talking to area teens, about their social networking habits, going on sites like Facebook or MySpace,or texting on their phones.

Jordan Macklin says it often can make schoolwork easier. She says when she had to do a math survey project, it was easy to find subjects. She says, "On Facebook, because you can reach a lot of people in a short amount of time."

While many teens strive to balance it with schoolwork, it often requires discipline and self-control.

Courtney Grogan allots herself only so much time social networking, and only when she's done with studies. She says, "I try to use it as motivation, to do my homework."

But most say their parents don't have a clue as to how much time they really devote to social networking.

Rampart High School student Chelsea Smith says her parents don't know when she's texting in bed late at night. She says, "They think I'm asleep."

Teenagers' use of social networking is growing. Facebook use among 12- to 17-year-olds is up to 54 percent last October, from 30 percent just one year before.

Experts say it and other social networking provide a lot of the same gratifications as gambling, with notifications, invites and messages giving you an unpredictable high. Experts call it intermittent reinforcement.

Barry Smith is a counselor at D-12's Cheyenne Mountain High School. He says of teenagers, "Their brains are flooded with dopamine. It's very rewarding, but it's not just that, but in the brain structure, the executive decision-making [part] of the brain, so that they're really not able to manage in the moment."

That could account for why some kids seem unable to break the habit, even when in class. Gabrielle Simmons, a Doherty High School student says teachers don't have any idea it's going on, and that sometimes in a class of 30, roughly 5 to 6 students are texting while the teacher's lecturing. "It's easy to get away with," she says.

Barry Smith says parents can best curb a student's habit from becoming unhealthy, by having a conversation about that. If it's encroaching on family relationships, schoolwork, sleep, or even down-time, it may be considered a problem.