Doomscrolling, a worrying habit for the mental health of adolescents?


As soon as they wake up, on the way to high school, in the shopping queue, from the comfort of a sofa… most young people have the habit of throwing themselves on their phone to check notifications and social networks. Facebook, Instagram, TikTok… they scrutinize news items and tragic events: images of the war in Ukraine, figures from the Covid-19 pandemic, global warming…

This habit has an English name, which emerged on Twitter in 2018: doomscrolling, from "doom" which means the fall, end or collapse and from the verb "scroll" which defines the action of scrolling one's digital screen from top to bottom. Its particularity is based on the research and intensive exposure of sad and dark subjects, amplified by the infinite scroll, without pagination. By doing a Google query on a mobile, users no longer need to click on “next page”. The further you go down the page, the more the results will show themselves. Recently, a study conducted by the British site Bupa, specializing in health, revealed that Google searches related to morning anxiety increased by 247% in 2022.

Young people particularly affected by doomscrolling

Certain population groups are more at risk than others. Starting with… teenagers, who spend a lot of time on their favorite social networks, whether it's Instagram, Snapchat or TikTok. This is all the more true since the start of the health crisis, with the confinements.

According to a study reported by the Wall Street Journal and carried out on a sample of 1000 people (500 teenagers aged 12 to 18 and their 500 parents), 70% of American teenagers check their phone 30 minutes before sleeping, 40% do so even five minutes before and 5% say they wake up at night to check their smartphone. For teenagers, this habit of "scrolling" arises especially in bed before sleeping.

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In France, the figures are just as eloquent. According to a study carried out by NordVPN company among 1000 French people, there are disparities in the use of mobile phones in bed, depending on the generation. If 45% of French people scroll on their mobile even before getting out of the duvet, 77% of 18-24 year olds scroll in the morning, when they wake up, through images or videos on the screen in an almost mechanical way. Scrolling aimlessly and mechanically for hours would have negative effects on the mental health of young people.

Impact of doomscrooling on adolescent mental health

According to David Nuñez, director of technology and digital strategy at the MIT Museum, "Social media algorithms emphasize negativity, which causes our bodies to produce stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol ».

This practice, combining the seemingly banal and harmless gesture of "scrolling" and the eruption of negative, anxiety-provoking news, has a direct impact on mental health and can become very toxic. The interconnected world, based on the use of smartphones, means that adolescents are constantly exposed to anxiety-provoking information and news. This tendency to view anxiety-provoking content has a direct impact on mental health, leading to increased stress, youth anxiety and insomnia.

According to one recent study by texas university of technology, a survey shows that of those most prone to doomscrolling, 74% had mental health issues, and 61% had physical health issues. When you don't scroll, you can sink into the fear of missing out on something: doomscrooling is also linked to the notion of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out), referring to the fear of missing out on things that are happening online.

How then fight against the "curse of "doomscrolling" and trying to take control of our brain?

How to limit dommscrolling?

Banning the smartphone is not the solution insofar as it is a tool for social integration in adolescence and, to mark their independence, young people tend to transgress taboos. Rather than prohibiting the use of smartphones, parents have every interest in favoring dialogue by explaining the risks of “doomscrolling”.

Then, clear rules can be set in partnership with the teenager such as: regulating screen time on the phone, for example agreeing a moment in the morning before breakfast and in the evening before the meal, in sessions of 10 minutes, in which parents allow their child to consult social networks. It is also possible to define application timers in order to block the smartphone if the predefined duration has been reached. Within the family, set up a routine in the morning by banishing the use of the telephone.

Elodie Gentina, Associate Professor, Marketing, IESEG School of Management

This article is republished from The Conversation under Creative Commons license. Read theoriginal article.

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