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Teenagers who have trouble regulating their emotions are most at risk

Social media scrolling and gaming can be addictive, but a new study from the University of Georgia found that these two behaviors are especially common for children who have trouble regulating their emotions.

The study found that nearly 80% of 12-17-year-olds reported checking social media every day, with TikTok, Instagram and Snapchat being the most popular platforms among teens. And 100% of students surveyed said they had a social media account.

Although less common than social media use, internet gaming is on the rise, with 86% of the sample reporting gaming experience at some point in their lives, with little gender variation .

Amanda Giordano

While many teenagers can use social media or gaming without problems, for some it can become problematic and compulsive. For those affected, addictive behavior tends to divide along traditional gender lines, with girls more likely to be addicted to social media and boys more likely to be addicted to gaming.

“Across the world, a small subset of people who play games and use social media can lose control over this behavior and can begin to see many negative consequences,” said Amanda Giordano, lead author of the study and associate professor at the UGA Mary Frances Early College of Education. “When these behaviors become their primary means of regulating their emotions, that’s where we can start to see that dependency develop over time.”

Students with emotional regulation problems are at greater risk of addiction

Emotion regulation is the ability to control your emotions, including when you have them and how you express them.

“Emotion regulation skills typically develop in the first two years of life as an infant learns to co-regulate their emotions with an attuned caregiver,” Giordano said. “But for whatever reason, it might not be every kid’s experience. And so, they end up going through life not knowing how to effectively change how they feel. When they find social media or games, they realize that it’s a way quick and easy to change their emotional state and they can depend on them over time.”

While teens who have trouble regulating emotions may be at higher risk for behavioral addictions, they can be taught to regulate their feelings, Giordano said.

Before activities such as gaming or social media become behavioral addictions, caregivers and mental health professionals can make several preventive efforts at home or at school.

These measures may include experiences of improving emotion regulation for children and psychoeducation and training for caregivers focused on emotional support. For example, children can be taught to identify and label their emotional experiences. They can learn emotional regulation strategies such as how to calm down, how to tolerate distress, and ways to alter their circumstances, what they attend to in their circumstances, or the meaning they make of their circumstances to influence their emotional responses .

“We can train families and parents to emphasize strategies for improving emotion regulation in the home to help children find ways to calm themselves that align with their goals and values,” Giordano said. “Adolescents can learn strategies to alleviate negative emotions and tolerate distress, so they don’t rely solely on rewarding behavior that can have negative consequences.”

Caregivers can learn to equip children with emotion regulation and coping skills by modeling these behaviors and helping youth practice these strategies.

Gambling disorder recognized by the WHO

Survey respondents represented a diverse group of 350 teenagers in the United States between the ages of 12 and 17.

Among teens who said they play, 43.9% were female and 55.5% were male, indicating an increase in female gamers. Additionally, among those who played, 38.2% reported playing every day. Of these participants, 47.8% reported playing for six hours or more a day.

In late 2017, the World Health Organization added gambling disorder to the International Classification of Diseases.

“When you play, it’s exciting and there’s this storm of excitement,” Giordano said. “It’s also a way to enter a trance state and forget the problems of the offline world. For some, it becomes the only way they know how to manage their feelings.”

Regular assessment of social media and Internet gaming use among adolescents can also provide important information for counselors and caregivers. Higher scores on assessments of social media addiction and Internet gaming disorder may indicate emotion regulation difficulties in some youth.

Source: Study links social media, gaming addiction to emotions

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