Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Social media is playing an emotional role in academics. Here’s how

Social media is growing for students in the Historic Triangle, but it might be making young adults less social than ever before.

“It’s the way students are primarily connecting,” said Jen Smethurst, a counselor at Jamestown High School. “It’s a constant connection to other students without being actually connected.”

While it might seem like students who are less social inclined might do better academically, Jeff D. Borden, executive director at Institute for Inter-Connected Education, said social media can also have resounding negative impacts on education if not properly understood.

Most of Borden’s work has been in higher education and he said studies have shown 75 percent of students who drop out of school don’t do so for academic reasons, but because of emotional aspects.

Emotional aspects which can fluctuate with the use of social media.

“They’re never really shut off from it,” Smethurst said. “With that they’re losing some of those basic relational skills from real interactions such as empathy or resolving conflict.”

On average, those between ages 15-32 spend around nine hours a day on their phones, according to a study from Common Sense Media. That’s the time they could be in class, at sports practice or hanging out with their friends in face-to-face interactions.

And some experts argue that time can become detrimental.

An analysis form the University of Pittsburgh showed negative experiences tend to carry more weight than positive experiences on social media and can contribute more to the likelihood of young adults experiencing depression.

That means during those nine hours of screen time, a student can get a flurry of good messages but also occasionally a bad one. And that one bad message can trump all of the rest.

Smethurst said in the past 10 years the number of students coming to her office with depression and anxiety issues has increased significantly. She said that could be for a number of reasons, but often there are underlying issues involving social media that play into a student’s emotional well-being.

Borden argues education can be one of the slowest sectors to adapt to change and find solutions. But after an abundance of studies within the past five to 10 years showing the connection between social media and emotional well-being, schools are starting to face the fact that social media is more than just sending funny pictures to friends—it’s an emotional outlet that has become the focal point of a teenager’s social life.

“For the first time in 25 years, I am hearing people talk about the need to connect students just for academic purposes,” he said.

Now, schools are using social media sites like Twitter and Facebook to not only engage with parents, but to help bridge connections between students.

“If we can connect them with an event or a cause or just a group of peers, those people are now connected not only to the school but to a group that matters to them,” Borden said. “And now all of the things associated with that group, which includes academics, makes these students more successful.”

Those connections create real-world social engagement to help form communication skills that Smethurt said are dying by the type of a text.

“(It’s) just basic communication skills that come from interactions with people that would typically develop when growing up,” she said. “Now they’re struggling to figure out situations outside that screen world.”

But Borden said the answer isn’t to banish technology. Instead, now that schools are seeing the ways social media can change a student’s success, social media might begin to be used as a tool to foster basic communication skills again.

Alexa Doiron
Alexa Doiron
Alexa Doiron is a multimedia reporter for WYDaily. She graduated from Roanoke College and is currently working on a master’s degree in English at Virginia Commonwealth University. Alexa was born and raised in Williamsburg and enjoys writing stories about local flair. She began her career in journalism at the Warhill High School newspaper and, eight years later, still loves it. After working as a news editor in Blacksburg, Va., Alexa missed Williamsburg and decided to come back home. In her free time, she enjoys reading Jane Austen and playing with her puppy, Poe. Alexa can be reached at

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