In light of concerns over the impact of social media on students’ mental health, schools are taking steps to discourage unhealthy relationships with technology.
High school biology teacher Kelly Chavis knew smartphones were a distraction in her class. But not even her students realized the psychological toll of their devices until an in-class experiment that, of course, was then spreading on social media.
For one class period, students used a whiteboard to tally, in real time, every Snapchat, Instagram, text, call, or other notification that popped up. Students were told not to respond to avoid generating replies… and further notifications.
Teachers around the country have run similar experiments, typically recording dozens of trips to the board.
«One girl, just during the one hour, got close to 150 Snapchat notifications. 150!» marveled Ms. Chavis, who teaches honors-level courses at Rock Hill Schools in South Carolina.
She’s among a growing number of teachers, parents, medical professionals, and researchers convinced that smartphones are now playing a major role in accelerating student anxiety – a trend so pervasive that a National Education Association newsletter labeled anxiety a «mental health tsunami.»
Testing, extracurricular-packed schedules, and perpetual stressors like poverty can all weigh on students. But research now points to smartphones-driven social media as one of the biggest drivers of stress. After all, that’s where college acceptance letters fill Instagram, everyone knows where everyone else is going for spring break, and athletic failures and awkward social moments can live forever.
Jean Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State who has studied the issue, said it’s no coincidence that youth mental health issues have risen with the number of phones. «What a lot of teens told me is that social media and their phones feel mandatory,» she said, leading to a loss of sleep and face-to-face interactions necessary for their mental well-being.
Last year, an editorial in the American Academy of Pediatrics’ flagship journal recommended that doctors ask adolescent patients about their social media use as part of routine screening, alongside older questions about home life and drug and sexual activity. «Aberrant and/or excessive social media usage may contribute to the development of mental health disturbance in at-risk teenagers, such as feelings of isolation, depressive symptoms, and anxiety,» three researchers wrote in the journal Pediatrics.

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