Navigating Dopamine Detoxes: How An Actionable Social Enterprise Is Giving Hope To Gen Z

Declan Lafray


May 21, 2024

Out of America's 41 million youth, almost 45% feel persistently sad and hopeless. About 20% of them have considered suicide, and 10% have attempted to take their lives in the last year. These sobering statistics highlight a mental health crisis plaguing Gen Z individuals who are aged between 12 and 27 years old. Experts suggest that several factors are contributing to this epidemic: Social and academic pressure and social media are just a few. However, social media is considered one of the largest drivers of teen suicide, particularly because of its addictive design and influence on adolescent self-esteem. In addition, the algorithms these platforms use push harmful content directly into the hands of vulnerable kids.

Many advocates for safer internet use and Gen Z themselves are asking Big Tech and the Federal government if they are simply the 'experiment generation'. Now that platforms like Instagram and YouTube have been in use for about two decades, it's clear that tech isn't going away. And neither is the dopamine addiction social media creates for teens. So, what can be done to save America's youth?

Policy changes are the best way for sustainable change to be made, but it takes time and dedication to ensure legislation considers the true needs of youth. Promly, a hybrid, responsible public benefit corporation, and non-profit, supports and amplifies Gen Z's voices in Congress through their advocacy work to include youth representation. This effort extends to policies that directly impact young people.

The company also provides teens with an actionable, sustainable, and collaborative social platform that is for every young person, not just kids who are suffering. Using AI, Promly age-gates access to the platform to ensure that the young people on it are of the age they claim to be. This is done to mitigate the risks associated with unsolicited sexual advances from older people. "If you were to ask the average teenager if they've been approached by sugardaddies through social media, the answer will be yes," says Jennifer.

Excessive screen time in children has been suggested to prohibit healthy development. Recent studies have revealed that 51% of teens spend at least four hours daily on social media. This excessive screen time can overstimulate the brain's reward center, creating neural pathways akin to addiction. As a result, teens experience sleep problems, struggle to pay attention, and often feel excluded from their peers. If experienced long-term, these symptoms can develop into depression or severe anxiety. Some apps have emerged to combat how social media affects teen mental health. However, companies have failed to design an engaging and effective platform that teens will ditch social media for. Promly differentiates itself from existing solutions by building one of the first platforms made for Gen Z by Gen Z. Promly offers users more genuine connection, daily challenge engagement, socially impactful in-person events, and 24/7 access to mental health support including anxiety-reducing biofeedback from the flash of the user's phone. This all-in-one approach enables youth to begin their dopamine detox journey.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that creates 'feel-good' sensations of pleasure, satisfaction, and motivation. Food, sex, social interaction, and seeking behaviors are the main activities that stimulate dopamine, but social media has become another outlet for people to get a spike of this chemical. Social media's unpredictable and varying rewards cause users to keep using the app without pause. The brain becomes easily addicted to potentially receiving a reward. When social media use is limited it can also cause negative symptoms. The term 'FOMO' was created to describe the feeling of exclusion and social pressure to participate caused by social media. While not everyone is as sensitive to social media's addictive nature, teens are some of the most vulnerable. This is why Promly is urgently working to help adolescents combat social media's quick hits of dopamine with scientifically supported solutions that also create a healthier dopamine release.

Jennifer Libby MSW, LCSW, a psychotherapist with over 20 years of experience, founded Promly to help teens find community, support, and fulfillment without the drawbacks of traditional social media platforms. By integrating daily challenges, a 20By20 vision board, and several other tools, Promly helps teens set and achieve their goals in the real world. These actions enable the brain to find social media less addictive as the payout of meeting short and long-term milestones in real life provides longer-lasting satisfaction.

Libby, who founded Promly in 2020 after witnessing a visible uptick in teen suicides and experiencing the loss of her son, became fed up with Big Tech's lack of progress. "For years, people were wondering why technology was enabling bullying, self-harm, and countless other behaviors that are deeply scarring for youth," Jennifer says. "Yet, there were relatively few solutions making a difference. Many teens hate how social media makes them feel but can't find something that helps them get the same support and community these apps provide. It's for this reason that Promly's ecosystem offers real-life connection opportunities, chances for skill building, and mental health resources."

Promly recently released the first version of its app on the Apple store and plans to design further iterations for different age groups such as university or middle school students. Alongside business and app development, Promly has remained politically active, regularly visiting the Capitol to comment on children's internet safety and how technology companies should be doing more. Jennifer is deeply passionate about reducing problematic content that causes self-harm from platforms like YouTube to decrease youth suicide rates. Promly has also been instrumental in not only ensuring that youth representation is included in current tech policy but has also co-authored part of policy that invites young people under 25, and parents, to provide a level of oversight in current tech policy.

"I'm a therapist, I learn about dangerous trends in 72 hours. But, if you just listen to kids, they will tell you what's going on in 20 minutes, or less," says Jennifer. "Oftentimes, they struggle to understand why nothing is being done. They say, 'Adults created social media, they know it's harming us. Why haven't the adults stepped up to fix it? Do they just not care about us, are we just the experiment generation?' What I want them all to know is, there is hope and that together, we will change outcomes and save lives."

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Declan Lafray