Preventing Facebook Addiction

Facebook, the popular social networking site, has 350 million members worldwide who collectively spend 10 billion minutes on the site every day. Katie Hafner of the New York Times writes that some students are nipping their addiction in the bud by deactivating their accounts or restricting their time on the site.

Halley Lamberson, 17, and Monica Reed, 16, juniors at San Francisco University High School, recently made a pact to help each other avoid addiction. “We decided we spent way too much time obsessing over Facebook and it would be better if we took a break from it,” Halley said. The two friends decided to only log on to Facebook the first Saturday of every month, and they are holding each other accountable.

Halley and Monica are among many teenagers, especially girls, who are recognizing the addictive potential of Facebook and the time it consumes that could be spent studying or hanging out with friends.

Kimberly Young, a psychologist who is the director of the Center for Internet Addiction Recovery in Bradford, Pa., said she had spoken with dozens of teenagers trying to break their Facebook habit.

“It’s like any other addiction,” Dr. Young said. “It’s hard to wean yourself.” She said she admired teenagers who came up with their own strategies for taking Facebook breaks in the absence of computer-addiction programs aimed at them.

“A lot of them are finding their own balance,” she said. “It’s like an eating disorder. You can’t eliminate food. You just have to make better choices about what you eat…and what you do online.”

In October, Facebook reached 54.7 percent of people in the United States ages 12 to 17, up from 28.3 percent in October last year, according to the Nielsen Company, the market research firm.

In her coming book, “Alone Together,” Sherry Turkle, a psychologist who is director of the Initiative on Technology and Self at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, discusses teenagers who take breaks from Facebook.

For one 18-year-old boy completing a college application, Professor Turkle said, “Facebook wasn’t merely a distraction, but it was really confusing him about who he was,” and he opted to spend his senior year off the service. He was burned out, she said, trying to live up to his own descriptions of himself.

Walter Mischel, a professor of psychology at Columbia University who studies self-control and willpower, performed a now-famous set of experiments at Stanford University in the late 1960s in which he tested young children’s ability to delay gratification when presented with what he called “hot” temptations, like marshmallows. Some managed to stop themselves, while others could not. “Facebook is the marshmallow for these teenagers,” Professor Mischel said. In his follow-up work, Mischel said he found that some of the children who delayed gratification with the marshmallows turned out to be higher achievers as adults.

Rachel Simmons, an educator and the author of “The Curse of the Good Girl: Raising Authentic Girls with Courage and Confidence,” said Facebook’s new live feed format makes the site particularly difficult to tear oneself away from.

“You’re getting a feed of everything everyone is doing and saying,” Simmons said. “You’re literally watching the social landscape on the screen, and if you’re obsessed with your position in that landscape, it’s very hard to look away.”

This addictive quality makes having a partner who knows you well especially helpful. Monica said that when she was recently in bed sick for several days, she broke down and went on Facebook. “At first I lied,” she said. “But we’re such good friends she could read my facial expression, so I ’fessed up.” As punishment, the friend who breaks the pact has to write something embarrassing on a near-stranger’s Facebook wall.

Neeka Salmasi, 15, a sophomore at Greenhills School in Ann Arbor, Mich., asked her sister, Negin, 25, to change her Facebook password every Sunday night and give it back to her the following Friday night. As a result, Neeka quickly saw an improvement in her grades.

Last year, Magellan Yadao, 18, a senior at Northside College Preparatory High School in Chicago, went on a 40-day Facebook fast for Lent. “In my years as a Catholic, I hadn’t really chosen something to give up that was very important to me,” Magellan said. “Apparently, Facebook was just that.”