If you’ve ever been out on a romantic dinner date with your partner only to discover they seem distracted by the latest intriguing Facebook update, you’re not alone. Sixty-six percent of adults in married or committed relationships report that smartphones and social media sites like Facebook play an integral role in their lives. In fact, research shows the average user scrolls through social media sites for two and a half hours per day.
It may be time to consider the pros and cons of using these sites and establish a few ground rules to avoid any potential dangers of social media on your marriage and family.
The Pros of Social Media and Relationships
First, it’s important to consider the ways social media can enhance the lives of you and your family members. Social media can be a real plus for couples who spend a lot of time apart because it offers a way for them to connect, says Alexandra Samuel, PhD, a speaker, author, and regular contributor to The Wall Street Journal and The Harvard Business Review who helps people and organizations excel at working and living together online.
According to an article written by Gwendolyn Seidman, PhD, in Psychology Today, social media can aid relationships by making it easier for partners to integrate their once-disconnected social networks. One woman Seidman interviewed says her Facebook feed makes her husband’s co-workers feel as if they know her, and has served as an icebreaker when meeting those people in real-world social settings.
Likewise, young people form and maintain friendships online. By connecting with extended family and friends or taking part in local and global online groups, children can gain a sense of belonging. Social media can provide an avenue for them to follow their interests and learn new ones. It also offers them an opportunity to explore their creativity with profile pages, images, videos, and game modifications.
The Dangers of Social Media on Relationships
Now that you know social media’s benefits, understanding its pitfalls can help you be aware of its potential dangers on relationships:
Social media serves as a distraction from focusing on the interactions that nurture relationships. “Social media use can become compulsive,” says Darren Adamson, PhD, LMFT, chair of the Department of Marriage and Family Sciences at National University.
According to the Pew Research Center, 40% of partnered adults say they are bothered by the amount of time their partner spends on their smartphone. As social media sites update, they become more interactive and more “addicting,” making it difficult to manage the time spent on it. In fact, according to a study cited by PsychCentral, American college students describe abstaining from social media the same way they describe drug and alcohol withdrawal — cravings, anxiety, and feeling jittery.
People share their best lives on social media, so couples sometimes compare their mundane lives with other’s exciting lives, which can create destructive comparisons. A negative social comparison or the fear of missing out (FOMO) is the idea that someone else is having a better time or is more successful than you (from what you can see of their online lives). This notion can impact our mental health in a number of ways. Feeling envy and down on ourselves because of what others post on social media is associated with worsening depression and decreased overall well-being.
A study published in Computers in Human Behavior found a link between social media use and decreased marriage quality in every model analyzed. The study results predict that people who do not use social media are 11 percent happier in their marriages than people that regularly use social media. For children, it’s important to consider what they’re not doing when they’re spending so much time on social media. According to the National Institutes of Health, the overuse of digital media can put your children at risk for:
- Depression and anxiety. Research shows the more time adolescents spend on their smartphone, the higher levels of depression and anxiety are found one year later.
- Not enough sleep. Children and teens who have too much media exposure or who have a TV, computer, or mobile device in their bedroom fall asleep later at night and sleep less.
- Obesity. Excessive screen use and having a TV in the bedroom can increase the risk of obesity. Watching TV for more than 1.5 hours daily is a risk factor for obesity for children ages 4 through 9. Teens who watch more than five hours of TV per day are five times more likely to be overweight than teens who watch two hours or less per day.
- Cyberbullying. Children and teens online can become victims of cyberbullying, which can lead to negative social, academic, and health issues for both the bully and target.
Guidelines for Maintaining a Healthy Balance Between Social Media and Relationships
Is it possible to maintain healthy relationships and be actively involved in social media? The answer is yes. A survey conducted by the American Psychological Association found that 55% of Gen Z feel supported through social media. Still, setting a few ground rules can mean the difference between a healthy use of social media in a relationship, and taking it into the danger zone.
Don’t use social media as a negative point of comparison for your relationship. “If you feel compelled to make comparisons involving your relationship,” says Adamson, “compare where your relationship is today with what it was like a year ago — or five or ten years ago for those in a long-term relationship. Let the results of the comparison prompt changes in behavior that can build your relationship.”
Spend time nurturing your relationship. “Do things that create closeness in your relationship,” encourages Adamson, “and do them regularly without distraction.” If possible, tuck the smartphone away — out of sight and out of mind. The distraction factor is one of the biggest challenges with social media. According to a study by Scientific American, the presence of a smartphone can be detrimental to interpersonal relationships.
Do not maintain a separate social media life. “Share your social media world with your partner,” Adamson says. The same is true for your child. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests co-viewing social media with your child, so they can use it to learn, be creative, and share these their experiences with family.
In healthychildren.org, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends setting social media ground rules for your children. To strike a healthy balance in your family, remember that all children and teens need adequate sleep (8-12 hours, depending on age), physical activity (1 hour), and time away from media. By creating a family media plan, you and your children can set media priorities that matter most to your family.
Plan media-free times together, such as family dinners, and engage in family activities that promote well-being, such as sports, reading, and talking with each other. As a parent, set a good example by turning off the TV and putting your smartphone on “do not disturb” during media-free times with your family. Another important media-free time is when your child does homework.
Keep in mind that social media is exactly what the name implies — media. “It is not a separate and distinct world,” Adamson says. “It does not sustain relationships, because it is based on virtual reality that, by its nature, is not able to support the activities required to make a relationship work.”
Pursuing a career in marriage and family therapy
From social media and pressures at work to a stack of bills still unpaid, modern-day life can strain marriages and families. If you’re a compassionate individual who cares about helping people and would like to help them build stronger relationships and navigate life’s difficulties, becoming a marriage and family therapist can be a satisfying career choice. National University’s Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology is designed to prepare you to work with couples, children, and other family members to help them manage various emotional situations or psychological issues.
Students in this online MFT program choose between two specialization options based on their career goals: the standard Marriage and Family Therapist Option and the Combined MFT/LPCC (Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor) option. Throughout the program, you’ll work closely with faculty members who are also practicing professionals in their field, so you’ll gain real-world insights into how licensed therapists can make a positive difference in the lives of their clients.
NU’s online MFT program is designed for California only. The program can be completed in 20 months, at which time you’ll be prepared to sit for the Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT) License mandated by the Board of Behavioral Sciences in the state of California. By adding three more courses in three months, you can also be eligible to sit for a license in Professional Clinical Counseling.
Ready to take the first step in your education journey? Contact NU for more information.