As I scroll through Facebook, my eyes are often drawn to stories that have a connection to the classroom. Whether it is a news story, a piece of social commentary, a provocative cartoon or a meme, I take inspiration from the sphere of social media and use this inspiration to feed into my teaching practice.
However, I also spend a lot of time mindlessly scrolling through content that does not enrich my teaching or my life on any level for that matter. I am frequently sucked into reading and watching pointless junk and while I wonder what effect this has on the connections in my adult brain, I worry what effect it has on the young people I spend time with every day.
‘Facebook depression’ is identified as emotional disturbance that develops when teens spend a lot of time on social media and unconsciously begin to compare themselves negatively to others (Steers, Wickham & Acitelli, 2014). I know that many young people have long since moved away from Facebook to embrace the array of other social media platforms that it has inspired but whatever platform we consider, the effects are the same.
Procrastination, distraction and the desire for approval all blighted my teenage experience but how much more challenging is the world inhabited by teens today. They are required to manage their studies and an ever increasing array of extra-curricular activities to ‘get ahead’ and to do so to a sound track of media noise and whirring social expectations. In many schools, students are required to complete their work on devices that are designed to distract and trigger pleasure centres in the brain. As teachers and parents we instruct students to spend hours plugged into their devices studying and then are surprised when they fall prey to procrastination and get distracted by devices that are essentially fulfilling their purpose.
Internet addiction is now included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual used by psychiatrists. A Facebook addiction scale has been developed ( Paddock, 2012) and worryingly, studies have shown that social media is more addictive than cigarettes and alcohol.
Of course, social media applications such as Facebook can have a positive effect in terms of eliminating loneliness and enabling connections to be formed. We can use them to become more informed about the world in which we live, gain a deeper understanding of complex issues and as a means of self-expression. It is not all bad and perhaps that is why in contrast with other addictive forces in the lives of young people it can be so dangerous. We can instill messages of abstention from alcohol and tobacco with confidence that all young people will be healthier and happier if they go without, but the same does not apply to social media. A mindful approach to the use of technology and social media has to be the way forward but how this can become manifest in places where social media is such an integral part of what it means to live, remains to be seen.
Steers, M-L, Wickham, R.E Acitelli, L.K. (2014). Seeing Everyone Else’s Highlight Reels: How Facebook Usage is Linked to Depressive Symptoms. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology: Vol 33
Paddock. C (2012) Facebook addiction: New psychological scale. Medical News Today.