Getting in the way: Social media’s interference with kids’ attention

December 11, 2023 at 9:00 a.m.

By EMMALEE ITALIA
Contributing Editor

Social media has been around for a little over two decades, long enough for today’s youth to have no memory Dr. Jason Briggsof life before it. In that short time span, the number of social media sites and ways they can be used has increased exponentially, and so have the problems its presence creates — particularly for children and teens.

A 2022 Pew Research Center survey found that almost all teens have used YouTube, TikTok, Instagram or Snapchat. The survey reported that although about a third of teens say they spend too much time on social media, more than half of teens say it would be difficult for them to give it up.

But this is not news to parents and teachers, who must deal daily with the fallout of young people’s steady screen diet.

“Social media use is pervasive, and any attempts to try to insulate (students) from the activity pretty much evaporated during the pandemic,” said Jason Briggs, principal of St. Gregory the Great Academy, Hamilton Square.

Harassment without a break

One of his biggest concerns is how social media keeps kids constantly online, with no respite from potential harassment or breaks from image management.

“Now what we have is a situation where young people are never disconnected,” he said. “We are seeing that there is no time for them to recharge. At one time when there were issues at school, you could go home, and unless the person called you or visited your house, you had a break. Now there’s no relief valve for students, so pressure continues to build and becomes unbearable.” Additionally, transgressions become widely known “instantaneously.”

Briggs said that unlike when a student has ADHD, “where you can [utilize] therapy or medication, this is a learned behavior.”

“They can’t slow down their brains to deal with [the classroom]. There’s a decomposition of students being able to have any kind of focus or wait time — they need immediate feedback.”

That need leads to students rushing to complete a test or assignment and not completely reading or hearing their teacher’s directions.

Students “are so used to consuming information at a rapid pace and having that satisfaction from getting liked or subscribed to — but the classroom doesn’t function that way, so they don’t get the same feedback,” Briggs said. “It’s created a radically different classroom environment. It’s like something’s missing, they don’t feel validated, and it starts to pick away at how they value their performance in school.”

Putting up Boundaries

In efforts to combat social media’s interference, St. Gregory’s has implemented restrictions on students’ smartphone and smartwatch use.

“The rule is ‘out of sight and turned off’ — if it comes out during school day, it’s a discipline violation,” Briggs explained. “They’re not allowed to use it during break time, recess or lunch.”

He’s received some pushback from parents who use their children’s phones or watches to trace their whereabouts throughout the day. “I can’t just say ‘no’” to their presence, Briggs said, but he maintains that the technology must not be used by the students during school hours.


Social media has been around for a little over two decades, long enough for today’s youth to have no memory Dr. Jason Briggsof life before it. In that short time span, the number of social media sites and ways they can be used has increased exponentially, and so have the problems its presence creates — particularly for children and teens.

A 2022 Pew Research Center survey found that almost all teens have used YouTube, TikTok, Instagram or Snapchat. The survey reported that although about a third of teens say they spend too much time on social media, more than half of teens say it would be difficult for them to give it up.

But this is not news to parents and teachers, who must deal daily with the fallout of young people’s steady screen diet.

“Social media use is pervasive, and any attempts to try to insulate (students) from the activity pretty much evaporated during the pandemic,” said Jason Briggs, principal of St. Gregory the Great Academy, Hamilton Square.

Harassment without a break

One of his biggest concerns is how social media keeps kids constantly online, with no respite from potential harassment or breaks from image management.

“Now what we have is a situation where young people are never disconnected,” he said. “We are seeing that there is no time for them to recharge. At one time when there were issues at school, you could go home, and unless the person called you or visited your house, you had a break. Now there’s no relief valve for students, so pressure continues to build and becomes unbearable.” Additionally, transgressions become widely known “instantaneously.”

Briggs said that unlike when a student has ADHD, “where you can [utilize] therapy or medication, this is a learned behavior.”

“They can’t slow down their brains to deal with [the classroom]. There’s a decomposition of students being able to have any kind of focus or wait time — they need immediate feedback.”

That need leads to students rushing to complete a test or assignment and not completely reading or hearing their teacher’s directions.

Students “are so used to consuming information at a rapid pace and having that satisfaction from getting liked or subscribed to — but the classroom doesn’t function that way, so they don’t get the same feedback,” Briggs said. “It’s created a radically different classroom environment. It’s like something’s missing, they don’t feel validated, and it starts to pick away at how they value their performance in school.”

Putting up Boundaries

In efforts to combat social media’s interference, St. Gregory’s has implemented restrictions on students’ smartphone and smartwatch use.

“The rule is ‘out of sight and turned off’ — if it comes out during school day, it’s a discipline violation,” Briggs explained. “They’re not allowed to use it during break time, recess or lunch.”

He’s received some pushback from parents who use their children’s phones or watches to trace their whereabouts throughout the day. “I can’t just say ‘no’” to their presence, Briggs said, but he maintains that the technology must not be used by the students during school hours.

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