Why are we blaming teens for social media addiction?

Nithila Balaji (’25) writes about social media and teens. “There are only two industries that refer to their customers as ‘users.’ Social media, and drugs. There are more similarities between these two industries than one would think.”

These days, Gen Z and social media are two terms that have been associated with each other, more than anything else. With most of today’s teenagers spending 4 or more hours on social media daily, the blame for social media addiction is often turned right back onto them. Every descending generation is increasingly symbiotic with the internet in emotional ways that are difficult to articulate to adults from older generations. There is only one true perpetuator for this, and it is not the teens who utilize social media. It’s the CEOs sitting in Silicon Valley, discussing how to target these vulnerable teenagers. It’s capitalism. 

There are only two industries that refer to their customers as “users.” Social media, and drugs. There are more similarities between these two industries than one would think. Both can be used as escape mechanisms. Both can give us a high without realizing the negative impacts that it can lead to. According to Addiction Center, a popular online guide for addiction and recovery, social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram  and Snapchat produce the same neural circuitry that is caused by recreational drugs to keep consumers using their products as much as possible. For many people, this so-called “tool” of social media has become an extension of self. 

As app developer Peter Mezyk says, “The success of an app is often measured by the extent to which it introduces a new habit.” There are three key steps used by developers to get an app to manipulate our behavior. Sufficient motivation, an action, and a trigger. This can also be described as a user’s desire for something to happen, the convenience of opening the app, and an “incidental trigger” that hooks the user back into the app. All of this contributes to a design tactic that constantly keeps users in the app, and pulls them back in when they’re not. 

 In the 2020 documentary, The Social Dilemma, Tristan Harris –  a former design ethicist at Google – spoke about how Google was presented with the opportunity to change the addictive nature of their products numerous times. Time and time again, fellow colleagues would bring up how the softwares was impacting people around them, their children, spouses, friends. But everytime, there would be nothing but silence from the people in charge. Even after being alerted of the alarming impact that their products have on the general population, they still choose to continue making money off people’s addictions. 

When presented with this argument, many people argue that the problem stems from the people themselves,  that if one is just unplugged and disconnected from devices, one would be okay. Individuals are blamed. But we need to understand that the platforms or the people  themselves are not malicious, and are meant to be used as tools of communication and entertainment.  Our capitalist economic system is driving the malice. What started off as college students developing apps to help their peers meet new people, turned into a vast empire of tech heads trying everything possible to use their inventions to make them progressively richer.   We need to recognize that the addictive nature of social media is only so because of the influence of capitalism.  Without this influence driving these platforms, they would be what they were initially meant to be: tools. 

4 thoughts on “Why are we blaming teens for social media addiction?”

  1. Hi Nithila! What a great blog post! This is such an interesting topic, and I really appreciate your approach to breaking it down by looking at it through multiple lenses: social, economic, and scientifc.


    1. Well done. I really enjoyed your commentary on the capitalist and economic system being the things driving the malice, it is capitalism that is truly causing the addiction. Additionally, I appreciated the incorporation of evidence from the Social Dilemma documentary–it’s interesting how the hunger for money can keep people from doing the right thing.


  2. I love this blog post! The idea that there are really only two types of users, really got me thinking about addictive some of the social media apps I use truly are. I appreciate the idea about it not being a teen’s fault too, because really it’s how society has brought us up!


  3. I really loved your blog post Nithila! I especially liked that you addressed the capitalists behind social media, because oftentimes people don’t think about that, and I think that’s an issue that needs to be talked about more.


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