Data highlights students’ social media usage as schools’ concerns grow

Dive Brief:

  • YouTube was the most common app used on a weekly basis by 4th-12th graders and for 9th-12th graders, email was the second most common app, according to a survey issued by The Social Institute, a company that provides curriculum addressing social-emotional learning, social media and technology.
  • The survey, which included responses from nearly 23,000 students in U.S. public and private schools, found school-issued devices, TVs and smartphones are the most popular devices used by students on a weekly basis. The survey took place between August and December 2022.
  • As students increasingly rely on social media to connect with peers, learn about world news and engage with academic resources, school systems continue to weigh the social benefits and mental health harms these platforms can have on youth mental health. 

Dive Insight:

While school systems widely embrace social media to share logistical updates and celebratory news, some have also criticized platforms for contributing to poor youth mental health. 

Last week, Arizona’s Mesa Public Schools Governing Board gave permission for its lawyer to work with outside counsel on a potential lawsuit against the companies behind Facebook, YouTube, Google, Snapchat and other companies. According to a discussion at the board’s Jan. 24 meeting, the school system is concerned about the companies’ impacts on student anxiety, body image and mental well-being. 

Seattle Public Schools filed a lawsuit earlier this month against the social media companies behind Facebook, TikTok and other platforms, alleging the companies specifically target teens and that their platforms cause social, emotional and mental harms. The mental health crisis is draining resources from schools, the district said in a Jan. 10 statement.

“The goal is not to eliminate social media, but to change how these companies operate and force them to take responsibility,” the statement said. “We are asking these popular companies to maximize their efforts to safeguard students, who are their most vulnerable consumers.” 

Laura Tierney, founder and CEO of The Social Institute, said in a statement that students spend about 8.3 hours a day on screen media. “For them, social media is simply being social,” said Tierney, adding that “social media, texting, and gaming are where students are hanging out with their friends, building relationships, staying informed on current events, pursuing their passions, and so much more.”

Regarding school systems’ social media accounts, a May 2022 survey found 99% of respondents said their district had a Facebook account and 93% had a Twitter account. The survey, which covered 292 educational organizations, was conducted by the National School Public Relations Association and the Consortium of School Networking.

Many school systems, such as Virginia’s Fairfax County Public Schools, suggest best practices for staff to follow when posting to social media in their professional capacity.

Additionally, The Social Institute and Common Sense Education offer strategies and lessons to help students have safer and more positive social media experiences.

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