It is often said of today’s teenagers that they are the first global generation. They grew up outside of the world’s polar political system, technical innovations came out in all countries around the same time, and the Internet made it possible to access information from any corner of the world instantly. Consequently, teenagers on different sides of the world have a lot in common, from using the same smartphones to binge-watching the same TV series.
When it comes to socialization, most communication among students and teenagers is conducted through various social media like Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, and Snapchat. Offline transfers to online. The real world merges with the virtual one. So, how does it influence students, their future, and educational success?
Social Media vs. Students’ Future
Influencers indeed form strong emotional bonds with teens and influence decision-making; nevertheless, according to recent research, friends and family remain the most reliable sources of information. The family was ranked first by 55% of respondents and third by 84%, followed by friends and school teachers. In contrast to past generations, we see that today’s teens have a more trusting relationship with their parents.
However, we are seeing an increase in the popularity of vloggers and YouTube/TikTok Influencers. The power of their influence is based on communication and a strong emotional attachment to fans. 42% of teens said that if a celebrity they admire promotes a product, they are more likely to buy it, especially in the regions of Asia-Pacific (+ 33%) and Latin America (+ 28%). This sort of influence impacts time for studying. Since the possibility of socialization is always at the fingertips now and snack content is so prevalent, it can serve as a distracting factor.
Teens spend a tremendous amount of time on social media and respond better to those they perceive as their peers; Teachers need to understand and use the nuanced roles(s) of different celebrities and influencers for teen audiences, using it for educational purposes.
Social Media vs. Addiction
Although the official recognition of digital addiction has received only in recent years (until the early 2010’s such type of addiction was more related to gambling), some psychologists have seen the connection long ago. In the mid-1990s, Kimberly Young observed that technology absorbs humans’ attention fully. She concluded that we need to expect an increase in cyber-addicted people, and in 1995 she founded Pennsylvania Center for Internet addiction.
Signs and dangers of virtual addiction
The strongest markers of this mental disorder are three behavioral traits that most often occur together:
- A gradual increase in “dose,” that is, time spent in front of a computer, gadget, or on social media.
- A change in behavior as virtual reality begins to substitute for the real-life activity or at least means the same.
- deterioration of emotional state without the Internet, which Young called a “withdrawal” syndrome.
It leads to personal degradation: weakening mental abilities, real-life goals are replaced with virtual ones, mental and physical health deteriorates. Modern education is aimed at finding the right knowledge. At the same time, students no longer learn the whole material, snatching up fragmented pieces, which does not lead to a versatile and full understanding of the subject.
As a result, articles for users’ benefit are getting shorter and shorter, like posts on social media or tweets, which leads to superficial knowledge of any subject, because unfortunately, it is extremely complicated to explain important and useful material in a short-form material. Regular articles are called “long-reads,” and writing a long format has transformed into a senseless act because almost no one reads them. This impact of social media seems to be negative for students at first glance. However, we only see the first generation of digitalized kids, so it is a little bit too early for conclusions supported by facts. It just seems that tendency to cut and simplify things might not serve our future well.
Social Media vs. Intellectual Ability
We’re talking about a progressive phenomenon that scientists call “digital dementia.” The author of the term and the book by the same name, German professor Manfred Spitzer, conducted research that showed how digital technology saves people from mental work. In our organism, everything that is not used gets less energy or is saved. In this case, we are speaking about the mental capacity of students. In the brain, this manifests through the weakening or disappearance of numerous neural connections.
The information received from the Internet is not assimilated but blindly copied, almost not processed by the brain. Students often don’t even like to spend time on numerous essays and projects because they know short and effective ways to order a term paper. As a result, the brain’s capacity for critical thinking and memory is not activated often enough to create strong neural connections. It is responsible for the most important functions through which a person learns and interacts with the world. So, long hours on social media can hardly be effective in terms of learning.
What Science Has to Say About Social Media and Studying
Researchers conducted a meta-analysis of 59 scientific papers on the relationship between social media and adolescent learning. A total of 29,337 people took part in the studies. The papers looked at adolescents’ behavior on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Weibo and Renren, popular social media networks in China. They considered how much time teens spent on social media during the day and how often they posted or interacted with someone. Besides, psychologists were interested in whether students often check social networks, working on their homework.
As the researchers expected, active use of study-related social media features – such as specialized groups for sharing information – improved scores slightly, on average. The results were slightly lower for those who made frequent personal use of social media sites while studying or preparing for it.
Those who used social media frequently and posted a lot throughout the day also fared slightly worse. In all cases, the results deteriorated or improved slightly. Time students spent studying during the day appeared to be about the same regardless of how often they accessed social media.
The authors of the work believe that social media does not interfere with effective learning.
According to psychologists, parents should not prevent their children from using social media. On the contrary, understanding and discussing its use can improve family relationships. According to Markus Appel, one of the paper’s authors, “If parents respect their children’s online activities, they get more opportunities for communication.”
Even though social media is mostly a distracting factor for studying, the modern generation of students gradually proves it wrong. Teenagers are mindful, communicative. They care about ecology, read a lot (even in short format), quickly grasp new technological concepts, are extremely open and flexible to any information, and learn to jump from one subject to another. All these skills gained by long hours on social media help them study and get access to information they need in life.