An excess of social media can have an impact on how students see themselves and how capable they are in the classroom. Let’s break down this issue and look for ways to help students navigate learning amidst these struggles.
Social Media’s Toxicity in A Students Everyday Life
In 2020, Common Sense Media found that the average daily screen time for tween girls is 4:55 minutes, and 8:02 minutes for teen girls. Ranking slightly higher, tween boys have a daily screen time of 6:11 and 9:16 for teen boys. What you can also find correlating with these times, is the number of students K-12 that are impacted by their screen time.
According to a study of 127 students by Harbinger (a student newspaper), 82% use social media (particularly Instagram), with 40% negatively affected by social media). These negative effects are reflected in a 2020 NBC article where they interviewed 17-year-old Kayla Christine Long, who posted a TikTok stating that all she had consumed that day was ice water, hash-tagging it “#whatieatinaday.” This video accumulated 2 million views, but it was inevitably deleted. Long was later diagnosed with an eating disorder and explained that what pushed her to these restrictive eating habits was the content she consumed on TikTok and Snapchat. Seven women also spoke to NBC News. They (women) told them that TikTok has encouraged them to fixate more heavily on their diets to an extreme level. As TikTok user and body-positive activist, Melody Young stated, this content circulation is nothing new.
“TikTok seems very reminiscent of pro-ana Tumblr circa 2013. ‘Fitspo’ images are back, unhealthy eating habits are constantly documented, and it can make it really difficult to avoid relapse when you’re randomly shown content that glorifies eating disorders,” Young told NBC News.
On TikTok however, this flood of “thinspo,” is a bit different than on Tumblr. As Long points out, TikTok operates on an algorithm, which will feed you an endless cycle of content based on what you click on. It can do so almost addictively. This is not the only toxic content that has been transcending platforms. And, this toxicity is not just limited to young girls. Social media can also affect men’s views on their bodies. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, boys using Instagram can even experience “muscle dysmorphia.”
“Boys who view or post content related to fitness or muscularity on social media are subsequently bombarded by other images of bulking teens, leading to a vicious cycle of constantly comparing their body with others and possible social media addiction. Instagram use is linked to increased risk of meal skipping and disordered eating in teenage boys as well as muscle and height dissatisfaction in men,” Jason Nagata said.
This plethora of issues hitting teens does not stop outside of the classroom. It subsequently bleeds into education.
How Social Media Factors Into Academic Performance & Activities
Social media, even with the above negative outcomes, is not all negative. It can allow students K-12 to have access to a multitude of opportunities. For instance, Georgetown Universities’ Center for Social Impact Communication’s Lori Wade states that social media can allow students to build communities and help them find summer internships. Using it in excess, however, can result in students dedicating less time to academics, and becoming more mentally unwell due to endless internet access, impacting their education. As Loyola University Maryland points out, proper application of social media in K-12 environments is the key to these more positive outcomes, both in academic settings and at home with parents.
Kira Barett explains that school districts are implementing programs that teach kids how to navigate social media, even introducing them into the classroom, and focusing on educators implementing awareness.
“Awareness of the issue is the first step for educators, parents, and students alike. Encourage students to step back and examine their usage more critically. “Smartphones weren’t a thing…now we’re using them a lot. How is that affecting our lives,” Jacob Barkley said to the National Education Agency?
Social media, for all of the connections and education benefits it can offer, when taken too far can harm a child’s sense of self and inevitably impact their academic life. The key, both in and out of the classroom, is careful monitoring of activity and knowing when there’s been too much screen time. When students are caught in a cycle of algorithm-manufactured toxicity, talk to them about the psychological effects they’re experiencing (i.e. programs to help kids navigate social media). These body image issues, and the other mental health problems that follow suit do not stop when students enter the classroom. Again, social media is not inherently negative and can ultimately offer benefits to both the well-being of students and their education. The goal is safety and balance.