The topic of social media addiction is going to court, with the introduction of the Social Media Addiction Reduction Technology (SMART) Act. Senator Josh Hawley proposed this bill this week to prohibit social media companies from exploiting users through addictive features, such as autoplay, badges for engagement, and infinite scroll. 

While legislators have acknowledged banning social media platforms is unrealistic, they have noted that these features play a role in social media addiction, low self-esteem, and social anxiety. Banning features like snap streaks may reduce the time teen snapchat users spend on the platform, but could it actually be effective in reducing their social anxiety?

Engagement Features Validate Online Presence

Teens spend a lot of time cultivating their online selves and building their identity around relationships they’ve built online. Individual platforms, like Instagram, have talked about hiding likes from other users to help teens let go of external validation and social comparison, but something from the top-down may be more effective in treating social media addiction. These features motivate users to stay engaged and to make the most out of their experience on these platforms. While these incentives are good for business, they have a questionable effect on mental health.

When people base their self-esteem off external validation, such as likes, they may feel seen, heard, and connected to others, but it is contingent on whether the likes or comments keep coming. When teens log off from these platforms or have been inactive for a few days or weeks, they realize this boost is only temporary. 

Social Anxiety and Snapchat Streaks

Snapchat has become teenager’s social media platform of choice, where they can send pictures, messages, and post stories that disappear after a certain period of time. While teenagers have the option to turn their read receipts off text messages and are given a preview of texts before responding, these features of Snapchat create a sense of urgency in responding. Parents who try to limit their teen’s time spent online or threaten to take away their phone, even for a few hours, are familiar with the complaint “but what about my snap streak?” 

A streak occurs when a Snapchat user ‘snaps’ another ‘friend’ within a consecutive 24-hour period and receives a snap back. Once a user is on a streak a number will appear next to the flame this tells the user how many consecutive days the streak has been going. An hourglass emoji appears next to their friend’s name whenever a streak is about to end. While older adults appreciate how social media allows them to stay connected to people they don’t see frequently and reduces their pressure to make consistent plans in order to “keep someone in their lives,” younger teens feel that the quality of their relationships depends more on the quantity of contact, rather than the quality of their relationship. 

The Value of Streaks 

Teens judge the quality of friendships by the length of their streaks and whether the other person makes the effort to stay in touch every day, even if they’re only sending each other random obligatory pictures before the hourglass runs out. Streaks are another way of maintaining social status, although it’s more personal than the number of followers or likes people have on Instagram, as it involves more direct and frequent communication. However, there is a lot of energy that can go into keeping them, especially as many teens try to juggle dozens of streaks with hundreds of days at the same time. 

As teens obsess over maintaining these streaks, their social anxiety and self-judgment intensifies:

  • Am I reaching out often enough?
  • Am I being too clingy?
  • Am I interesting enough to receive snapchats from?
  • What if they don’t respond?
  • What does it mean about our friendship if we lose our streak?
  • Is it worth starting new streaks?
  • Do I have enough streaks?
  • Are mine long enough compared to other people’s?
  • How many other people do my friends have streaks with?
  • Am I good enough?

Managing Social Anxiety Around Snap Streaks

Often, the more competitive teens are about maintaining the social status of streaks, the more socially isolated they may feel. While banning the snap streak feature can help fight the addictiveness of social media platforms, it minimizes the meaning teens have assigned to them and ignores the fact that social anxiety exists, often more so, offline as well. Streaks encourage teens to interact socially and feel like part of something many of their friends are doing and can be a safety net for teens who feel more comfortable socializing online than in person.

  • Validate why your daughter finds value in things like snap streaks.
  • Help her identify other ways to show commitment and loyalty in relationships.
  • Encourage her to dedicate time to these relationships offline.
  • Ask her to explore what it would mean if she lost those streaks and challenge whether these things are true.
  • Reassure her that meaningful relationships go beyond numbers on a screen and can be picked up at any time.

Solstice Can Help

Solstice RTC is a groundbreaking residential treatment center for girls, ages 14 to 18. Our girls often grapple with depression, Snapchat addiction, anxiety, trauma, ADHD, and other emotional or behavioral problems when they come to us. Dealing with these issues can get confusing and overwhelming fast–but we’re here to help guide you.

Through a unique combination of therapeutic programs based upon both traditional and holistic mental health treatment, we treat our clients with age and gender specific techniques. We strive to empower teenage women with the ability to believe in themselves and provide the tools and motivation required to instill these beliefs for life. As a relationship-based program, we help girls build strong support networks offline through healthy activities, open communication, and vulnerability.

For more information about how we help with social anxiety and Snapchat addiction at Solstice, please contact us at (866) 278-3345.