Guiding students away from social media disruption and toward productivity

In our highly interconnected world, children are perpetually bombarded with distracting noise from social media. These platforms can adversely affect concentration, overall well-being, and the natural social development of young minds and bodies. The allure of social media is so great that it diverts precious time away from essential activities such as homework, reading, exercise, and face-to-face interactions. These disruptions not only impair focus on tasks but also hamper productivity. And, productivity is one of the key antidotes to social media disruptions that degrade student wellness.

It was unsurprising then, that in May 2023, the Surgeon General sounded the alarm about the detrimental impact of social media on children’s mental health. He called for action from policymakers, technology companies, researchers, families, and young individuals alike. The recommendations emphasized the need to bolster safety standards, enhance digital literacy, and promote responsible online behavior. These measures aim to cultivate safer and healthier online environments for children.

Engaging with social media platforms can trigger anxiety around FOMO (fear of missing out), leading to compulsive checking of social media feeds and persistent worries about missing out on potential social connections. This behavior often results in students developing obsessive and distracting usage patterns, accompanied by increased stress and anxiety related to their relationships and self-image.

Why this makes us less intelligent:

Research indicates that these habits negatively impact our ability to think at higher levels. A study conducted at the University of Buffalo revealed that frequent engagement in social media feeds diminished attention and working memory, crucial cognitive skills essential for learning. Reducing the negative feedback loop of social media alleviates these detrimental effects on focus, memory, and comprehension.

How productivity reverses this:

Productivity through deep work reverses the negative effects of social media disruptions:

These distractions pose a significant challenge to the concept of deep work, which Cal Newport (2016) defines as engaging in undistracted, concentrated activity that stretches cognitive capabilities to their limits. While the importance of achieving a state of deep work might be evident due to increased task completion, its value extends far beyond the mere achievement of a task checklist. Deep work provides immense satisfaction, rooted in the profound sense of achievement it offers. This sense of fulfillment is pivotal in the human experience, serving as a powerful antidote to anxiety, stress, and trauma. I (Gaskell, 2021) delve into the impact of trauma on meaningful work and offer strategies to mitigate its effects. Following, you will discover practical, classroom-friendly interventions that can help students (and educators) overcome distractions and regain focus, leading to highly rewarding accomplishments.

Casual Coffeehouse ambience:

Listening to coffeehouse sounds places our minds in a deep, creative theta state of intense focus, striking a balance that diverts our attention away from insignificant external stimuli (such as phone notifications) and directs it toward a laser focus. These brainwave patterns create an optimal environment for deep learning and heightened concentration. Utilizing the ambiance found in coffeehouses, available on platforms like this one, serves as a quick and effective solution within the classroom. These sounds can enhance students’ focus whether working independently or whole-class.

Binaural beats:

These serve as a method to enhance individual student engagement. By wearing headphones or earphones, the listener is exposed to two distinct frequencies that stimulate the auditory nerve in the brain. The interaction of these frequencies creates a third, virtual sound, influencing the brainwaves in a customized manner, aligning with the intended cognitive effect.

Binaural beats target focus, productivity, and creativity. Like coffeehouse chatter, you can easily find binaural beats on websites like this on YouTube

You can’t be curious and anxious at the same time

Think of curiosity as a potent superpower, capable of effectively countering anxiety. How does it work? A curious mind can divert your anxious thoughts away from dwelling on hypotheticals and worst-case scenarios, which our primal brains tend to trap us in. While anxiety triggers fear, curiosity sparks a sense of wonder.

An inquisitive mind can stimulate the brain’s reward centers, similar to the response seen when we accomplish a new task or achieve a goal. This curiosity-induced reward sensation releases dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and happiness. Consequently, this surge in positive feelings helps alleviate anxiety, fostering a state of positivity. 

Letting students immerse themselves in tactical curiosity is meaningful and empowering because it offers them a choice. And yes, a productive one!

AI can aid student productivity and fight disruption too

AI has continued to offer potential, and concern. Yet a study shows how AI chatbots can be leveraged as a motivational learning tool in the context of learning. The chatbot can significantly increase students’ learning accomplishment. Indeed, we know that productivity has been presented as the antidote to social media disruption. Broader evidence supports that AI tools like chatbots boosted worker productivity by 14%. An added bonus of disrupting social media interference is that those who use it will replace those who don’t. Therefore, careful, structured use of AI resources can aid students, not only in productivity but in wellness.

Navigating the social media landscape

Recognizing that social media is deeply integrated into the lives of students, focusing on a shift to help students comprehend the negative feedback loops inherent in social media and leveraging tools available to them can provide solutions to these alluring disruptive forces. Recognizing that these loops diminish concentration levels, hindering the ability to engage in deep work and find satisfaction, is essential.