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#AskNicolaMorgan 6: “Is social media affecting my GCSEs?”

This question in the recent Ask Nicola Morgan competition comes from The London Oratory School. And no, I haven’t decided who the competition winners are but I will by the end of the weekend. It’s difficult!

I did really like this question. It’s very direct but carries a lot of weight.

“Is social media affecting my GCSEs?”

It depends how much time you’re spending on social media and what you’re doing on it. It is not possible or right to say categorically that social media use harms your grades, although you’ll see headlines that suggest so. (Look closely at what was being measured and how. How accurate or meaningful might this be, do you think? Hmmm.) Any reports you see about this will be based on studies measuring something very specific, for a specific and often small group of people, and only producing a statistical likelihood. Supposing a study showed that 51% of GCSE students who used social media for four hours a day lost on average half a grade on five subjects compared to students using social media for one hour a day (as far as I know, no study has shown this). This would not prove that your grades would be affected, only that some people’s were from the group that was measured, using those measurements. And how do you measure people’s use anyway? Strap them to monitors? No, the researchers ask them questions. How accurate is that? We know nothing, basically, or not enough to make these pronouncements with any certainty.

Whether your grades would be affected by your use would depend on a whole load of factors:

  • Whether you also spent enough time on your work – but remember that GCSE results don’t just depend on how long you spend on work but how well you work when you’re working
  • Whether you used your working time well
  • How much work you personally need to do to get the best grades you’re capable of – some people work more quickly and therefore need less time
  • Whether you genuinely use social media to relax, in which case your social media use could help (because you’ll work better with some relaxation)
  • Whether your social media use is negative, lowering your self-esteem and mental health, which is likely to negatively affect your work
  • Whether you are in control of your social media use or it is controlling you.

We also have to think about other screen-based activities than social media (although I realise your question was just about social media so perhaps that is all you want to know about). You may also use your screens (phones, laptops, tablets) to look things up and learn things – likely to help your GCSE grades, as long as you’re getting good info. And/or to play computer games (which you might do socially or alone) – likely to be a negative influence if you play too much and don’t get your work done, or a positive influence if you are able just to pay for a short time only.

Really, the answer is: if you’re using social media too much, it’s highly likely to impact your GCSE grades negatively. This is kind of obvious: if you’re spending too much time online, you’re spending less time focusing on work.

But what is “too much”?!

There’s no science that answers that question! No study can tell you what is too much and what is OK. (This is partly because no studies take into account the difference types of online activity or the different types of individuals and different behaviours people have online.)

However, I will answer the “too much” question.

My answer is that if you’ve left enough time to do your work as well as you can, and enough time for some physical exercise, face-to-face interaction (including over meals), non-screen relaxation, sleep and daydreaming, you are not using social media “too much”.

If you haven’t got time for all those things, you may be using social media too much. However, it’s also possible that there are other things in your life preventing you from having those healthy activities. Similarly, if you haven’t got time for exercise, face-to-face, non-screen relaxation and sleep, you may well be working too much.

So, make sure you do all those things, and then use the rest of the time for social media if you want to. I don’t believe your grades will suffer. Keep balance in your life and all will be well.

Here’s another thought for you: sometimes we might work better if we have less time for our work. Working for two hours won’t necessarily make us learn more than if we worked really hard for one hour, followed by a 20-minute break (for social media or something else), followed by another 40 minutes of work. Personally, I think I’d achieve more with the break. I think you might, too.

The main thing is to be in control. To make strong decisions about when to work and when to take breaks. It’s when we are not in control and we use social media because we can’t resist the temptation that the chance of it negatively affecting grades is likely.

I think many of you will admit that that applies to you. Be honest! In that case, learning to switch off social media more often is likely to have a good effect.

It’s common sense really and I think we have to wise up to it and admit it. The science can’t answer the question but I think common sense and our own honesty can.

Let me turn the question round and give you responsibility and self-determination:

Do you think, personally, that your social media use makes you work less well? Does it lessen your concentration? Do you think you’d get more work done if social media didn’t exist?

If the answer to any of those questions is yes, you may just have answered your question!

But, don’t beat yourself up: use it as an incentive to take back control. Remember, it’s only a problem if you do it “too much”. You can’t (and shouldn’t) work all the time.

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