Belfast Telegraph

Parents and pupils urged to find 'middle ground' for social media in exam time

By Mark Bain

In the midst of exam season parents have been warned that banning students from social media altogether won't make them study any better.

However, Avril Hall Callaghan, General Secretary of the Ulster Teachers' Union, also warned students it isn't always possible to revise and post at the same time.

"WhatsApp-ing your way through successful exam revision just isn't possible, that's the bad news for students - but the good news is that total bans on mobile phones in bedrooms or study areas don't work either," she said.

Ms Hall Callaghan was commenting on similar views promoted by the government's advisor on school behaviour, Tom Bennett, who is also founder of the ResearchEd group, which spreads education research among the teaching profession.

"We're in peak exam revision season and there can be few homes where there hasn't been some level of confrontation over a teenager's use of social media during study time," she said.

"The adolescent brain can be addictive where social media is concerned - constantly needing to check for updates and statuses. Schoolwork is one casualty, alongside disrupted sleep and anxiety from an online culture that never switches off.

"It is also wired in such a way that open confrontation by a parent over this just isn't going to cut it.

"Yet the facts speak for themselves with studies from the US showing that not only does pupil achievement improve as a result of putting mobile phones away while studying, but also shows that low achieving and low income pupils gain the most.

"Another study indicates that bombarding people with multiple online distractions didn't make them quicker to react - as your teenager might argue."

However, Ms Hall Callaghan said that part of the problem is that when a student is revising online, work and play are a click away from each other.

"YouTube is an easy distraction but it's also a useful revision tool, while search engines can uncover online tutorials a student might otherwise miss," she said.

"So it's not as easy as simply asking your teenager to turn off their mobile. Encouragement rather than confrontation might be a better approach. Are your children even aware of the level of distraction their social media interruptions are having?

"Use of social media among young people is so ingrained now that they genuinely may not be aware of its effects on their ability to concentrate - yet it's no use switching off the wi-fi either as you're cutting off vital educational tools too.

"I think we may be at a turning point in attitudes of both parents and young people. No one can argue with the statistics revealing just how much time young people spend online and parents - a generation behind - are struggling to catch up.

"However, statistics are also showing the detrimental effects of trying to revise while being active on social media.

"Yes, the use of social media during exam time is a worry for but it's about finding a middle ground which works for the student."

Belfast Telegraph

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