Researchers have proven that young people who spend much of their time online find it harder to concentrate in class, are permanently distracted and have shorter attention spans. How does a teacher compare to Facebook in terms of entertainment? Well, he or she doesn’t in young minds.
Within each human being is an innate desire to learn and explore. The human psyche is naturally drawn towards new and exciting things. Social media has made it possible for people to explore these interests online. Starting with the introduction of sites such as YouTube, people have become more inclined to learn things online and self-educate rather than seeking assistance from some other means. Learning is more automatic online and more entertaining for young people. With a lot of young people logging on for up to 11 hours a day; age-appropriate learning is not always taking place when it is not supervised or structured. Also, when a book is open side by side with an ipad or pc, ‘partial learning’, a term coined by former Microsoft executive Linda Stone, is taking place. She also maintains: ‘rather than relying on life experiences and face to face interaction with others, young people are becoming obsessed with social networking and this is shaping their attitudes instead.’
In terms of college students, research has shown that students who use Facebook and hit the books simultaneously found their multitasking led to 20% lower grades than those of their more focused peers. Facebook-using students also made less money during school from part-time work, putting in around five hours per week as opposed to 16 hours per week for a typical, unplugged counterpart. Not only do grades and finances suffer, but students might actually end up feeling more depressed or lonely. Almost half of students believe they are sadder than their friends on Facebook, and 25% of college students have shown signs of severe depression in their status updates at one time or another. A constant life of comparison puts the viewer no longer in his own life-lane but stepping into the lanes of others and suffering in comparison as a result.
Ironically, children and young people today, in their desire to be connected are becoming disconnected from reality and real learning. According to the experts: ‘Social networking has become so much the norm, for adults and children alike, that non-participation can result in feeling excluded or even socially ostracised.’ It is becoming more apparent that the time invested in social media versus real life interpersonal interaction can detract from that available for real human contact and contribute to delayed and/or distorted social and emotional development. Some teachers are even using words like fanatical and obsessional when talking about their students’ love affair with social media like Facebook and Twitter. Educational Psychologist are also concerned that ‘if children are spending hours at night on social media it is perfectly feasible that teachers will see the negative results of poor concentration, excessive tiredness and lack of engagement in learning in school.’ In the worst case scenario, children can become quite isolated and withdrawn in the school situation and anywhere else that does not feature computer access. It is commonplace to find sleep deprived children who can’t concentrate in school after a late night of social media antics which we need to realise is now part of our social reality.
There is no getting away from Facebook. It is now a valid member of the family in the eyes of impressionable young minds and even adults. With minors, it is recommended to have rules in place that are designed to aid their social and cognitive development; like no Facebook time and phones off after 9 perhaps and during school time.
As unfortunate as it may seem, social media has become a serious distraction from people’s academic studies from as young as primary school age. Social Media is responsible for a lot more – one could even argue that it has contributed to the escalating bullying figures. In relation to bullying, it no longer stops at the school gates but can carry on when a child is in, what should be the safety of their own home. Young people are now showing a deficit in emotional intelligence and bullying is escalating to frightening levels.
So, should we be concerned about the effect of 24/7 connectivity. Absolutely. Young people need down time, time to be alone and think for themselves, reflect, muse, focus, and concentrate. How can that happen, when with one tap, they have all their Facebook friends in their space with them?
Sadly, those younger students who are online at every available opportunity are less willing to communicate with the adults in their life and therefore are relying on their social and media network to provide support, advice and affirmation. Social media has sparked an online epidemic of people helping other people. Blogs, forums, and podcasts have also become prevalent places to ask questions and further your knowledge on pretty much any subject. Sometimes those seeking the advice would be better helped with face to face contact. Yes, we are becoming self-learners, thanks to the worldwide web and social media but at what cost to human engagement, development and learning?