Reclaiming Our Children's Attention

Karen Sumner, freelance writer for The Growing Mind
The Winter 2024 Link magazine will be mailed shortly and contains a research-based piece that shares tactics on how tech companies get our attention through social media (including push notifications, infinite scroll, threat of not belonging) and what young people lose when their attention is hijacked. The following is an excerpt:
 
Time spent on social media is a significant predictor of depression for adolescents. It is associated with mental health and behavioral problems, poor academic performance, greater loneliness, lower self-esteem, and worse sleep. It is also correlated with developmental delays in language, in problem-solving and in social interaction.

Read the Growing Mind article in The Link
Many young people also report that they feel like they “lose themselves” online. As Max Stossel points out, they learn at an early age that in order to be heard online, they must compete for attention via likes, comments and performative behaviour. The more they feel compelled to be “noisy” and perform for others, the less many teens feel like their authentic selves. A loss of authenticity may be one reason why time spent online is associated with mental and social struggles.
 
Data collected by The Country Day School in 2023 confirms some of these broader findings. Fifty-five percent of students reported that they spend one to three hours on social media each school day, and 30% reported that they spend more than three hours daily on their apps. In all, the weighted average across all students was two and a half hours per school day, which is consistent with other studies.

In some interesting cross-tabulations, CDS students who are less satisfied with school life report spending significantly more time on social media. Those same “less satisfied” students are also more likely to spend very little time (less than one hour) or a great deal of time (more than three hours) on homework, suggesting a problematic relationship with school work. These students also indicate that they sleep less than six hours on school nights, which is concerning as sleep plays a central role in helping students retain and recall what they have learned and use their new knowledge to come up with creative and innovative solutions.
 
On the flipside, students who report that they get enough sleep each night are more likely to have an A average and to look forward to coming to school every day. These students also tend to be more engaged in extra-curricular activities, feel a stronger sense of belonging, and feel capable of balancing all of their commitments.
 
In sum: Students who spend more time on social media tend to sleep less, either spend very little time or quite protracted time on homework, get lower grades, and be less satisfied with and engaged in school and extra-curricular life. These correlations are consistent with youth data collected by other organizations.
 
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School Information

13415 Dufferin Street King, Ontario L7B 1K5 
(905) 833-1220 

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Founded in 1972, The Country Day School is a co-educational private school offering programs in JK-12 and located on 100 acres north of Toronto in King.