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According to a survey released by Gallup on October 13, 2023, the average U.S. teen uses social media 4.8 hours per day.  Girls use social media roughly one hour more than boys per day.  Teens favorite platforms are YouTube and TikTok with Instagram a distant third in popularity.

According to Gallup, “Amid declining teen mental health, many scholars such as social psychologist Jonathan Haidt have carefully investigated the role of social media, given the explosion in time spent using such applications. Studies have pointed out how technology companies manipulate users into spending more time on the apps through their designs.”

Jonathan Rothwell, principal economist at Gallup who authored the research released last fall, lists the five things parents and teachers should know about the impact of social media on youth mental health.

  • There’s a direct link between parent involvement and teens’ social media use and mental health.
  • Video-centered social media platforms like TikTok and YouTube may pose a bigger threat to teens’ mental health than other social media apps.
  • Even with involved parents, teen body image issues persist.
  • Reducing the quantity of time spent on social media versus the quality of time may be more beneficial.
  • Parents and educators have the opportunity to foster a healthier relationship between teens and their social media use.


Mental health isn’t the only concern.  The proliferation of cell phone use during school also impacts learning.  A 2016 study by researchers Louis-Phillipe Beland and Richard Murphy studied the effect of banning cell phones during the school day on students in several large English cities.  The research showed that test scores improved significantly after the bans.  Beland and Murphy argued that the lack of constant distraction allowed students to focus on their work.

Last fall schools in the United Kingdom banned the use of cell phones in school throughout the country.  But the U.K. isn’t the only country that does this.  UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) reported last summer that education systems in about 200 countries have similar rules limiting cell phones use in school.

Derek Thompson wrote an article titled “It Sure Looks Like Phones Are Making Students Dumber” in the Dec. 19, 2023 edition of  The Atlantic.  In the article, Thompson cites the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) calling it “the world’s most famous measure of student ability.”

Thompson cites data which show that internationally science scores peaked in 2009, reading scores peaked in 2012 and math scores were at their lowest in the history of the test which began in 2003.

Thompson concludes, “The way I see it, for the past decade, the internet-connected world has been running a global experiment on our minds – and, in particular, on the minds of young people.  Teens are easily distracted and exquisitely sensitive to peer judgement.  Results from a decade of observational research have now repeatedly shown a negative relationship between device use and life satisfaction, happiness, school attention, information retention, in-class note-taking, task-switching, and student achievement.  These cognitive and emotional costs are highest for those with the most “device dependence.”

On Jan. 11, Daniel Buck of the Fordham Institute wrote, “The evidence in support of stricter policies is mounting. Several studies have confirmed that limiting phone usage during class increases performance on both standardized test scores and end-of-course exams. The gains were equivalent to an additional hour of instructional time per week. Restricting phone use outside class time also shows benefits. For example, when schools place limitations on them during recess, researchers found that students exercise far more, burning off energy, fostering physical health, and promoting later attention in class.”

Author: John Wills


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