Nowadays, technology is a major component of our lives. There are now more mobile phones on the planet than there are people. Some of the most avid users of electronics are young people with recent research finding that students check their phone, on average, every 8.6 minutes. Many of us check our phones twice as often as we think we do.
Of course, there is a reason why phones have become so important in our lives – some would even say that they are essential. They are a very useful tool. However, we also know that phones are a danger to students’ concentration and learning. Developing phone management skills is now vital for young people. As with most good habits, it often falls on parents and educators to teach young learners how to use their phones without letting them negatively impact their academic success or well-being.
Mobile phones have the potential to be a great tool for students in the classroom, allowing them to find and share information. But recent research has suggested that they’re more likely to become a source of distraction. Students can easily be tempted to text or check social media during lessons rather than concentrating, engaging and interacting.
Similarly, phones can be a distraction when studying - it’s hard to focus on pages of notes and past papers when you have the temptation of social media and games right on your desk. Revision time is too precious for students to be wasting it with partial focus.
To commit information to long-term memory, students need to engage and interact with the material they are trying to learn. So, if a phone is next to them, all the notifications coming through will interrupt and disrupt their recollection of the information they are trying to take in.
Research has even shown that students are more likely to remember material if they are looking at the teacher during class. This is an easy finding to apply to phones: the less potential distractions students have, the more likely they are to focus on the teacher and have a better memory of new material.
An additional point is that the waves emitted by mobile phones could cause a reduction in memory. Only small effects have been revealed in such studies, so take these findings with a grain of salt. However, this could be a way to explain why students who use their mobile phones excessively have slower response times in memory tasks.
Mobile phones can have detrimental effects on students’ psychological health. They have been associated with increased levels of anxiety, irritation and impatience.
Also, it’s not just their presence that can causing these effects - 60% of students report feeling very agitated when they cannot access their mobile phone.
A little bit of stress is good to avoid complacency. Too much of it can lower students’ well-being, ability to focus and production of BDNF, the protein that helps their brain make memory connections.
75% of young adults who use social media experience FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out). Constant connection and the ability to curate which parts of your life you want to show can make students feel like others are always having more fun than them. FOMO can lead to lower moods and increased levels of anxiety. It can also encourage students to check their phones and social media more often, including during lessons, study time or instead of going to sleep.
Research has shown that mobile phones can lead students to enjoy interactions with others less. In one experiment, students shared a meal together. Those who had their phones on silent or off enjoyed their food and the company of others more than those who had it on or switched to vibrate. Further research that had participants completing surveys about their phone use supported these findings, noting that even moderate levels of phone use can negatively impact our ability to engage with others.
The constant distraction of mobile phones can encourage students to stay inside and use only social media and the internet to amuse themselves. This leaves them with less time for exercise, but also makes physical activities less enticing. However, exercise is important not only for students’ physical health, but for their mental health too. Recent research supports this, showing that going for a walk, even just for 12 minutes, is enough to increase happiness, attentiveness and confidence.
Many students believe that they’re good at multi-tasking and can handle revision and phone notifications at the same time. This is actually impossible. Essentially, multi-tasking is nothing but switching between tasks rapidly rather than doing them at the same time. This causes errors, reduces productivity, and wastes precious time and energy.
75% of students consider themselves to be procrastinators. Using a mobile phone is one of the most common ways to procrastinate on tasks such as revision. Fortunately, this is easy to overcome with just a few minutes of focus - after this, the brain’s desire to see tasks through to completion takes over according to research.
It is not uncommon for students to use a laptop or mobile phone to take notes under the assumption that this will save them time and be easier. However, research has shown that, when typing on a keyboard rather than writing with a pen, students are more likely to take notes verbatim. This doesn’t allow them to engage with the material as much as they would if they had to write it down in their own words - which leads to shallower learning and poorer recall at a later stage.
A classic argument for keeping their mobile phone nearby during the night is that students use it as an alarm in the morning. Luckily, there is a very easy fix for this: buying an alarm clock. This will improve students’ sleep quality and quantity, as they will be less tempted to use their phone late after bedtime or in the middle of the night if they wake up.
Unwinding before going to sleep is a great idea, but using a phone to do so is a mistake. Mobile phones emit a bright blue light that reduces the production of melatonin, the hormone that makes humans sleepy. Since social media and apps are designed to be addictive, it’s extremely hard for students to put down their phone early enough. Add this to the stress that FOMO can create, and students are almost certain to have a short, unrestful night.
Sometimes, it can be as easy as keeping their phone out of sight when they need to focus. They could do this by giving it to a trusted adult who will look after it for a determined period time or until they have completed a specific task.
Changing settings to choose what they are notified of and when, is a great way for students to be less tempted to check their phone. This way, they can avoid being distracted by Twitter or Instagram notifications, without fearing they might miss an urgent call. Using this strategy is beneficial in the long-term too, as this can help students get into the mindset that not all messages require immediate attention - if any at all.
The light that phones emit stop students from feeling sleepy when the time to go to bed comes. Melatonin, the hormone that helps someone feel sleepy, gets released around 9pm. However, the bright, blue light from screens can interrupt its production. If students still feel alert in the lead up to bed, it’s likely they won’t fall asleep until later and therefore won’t get the recommended 8-10 hours of sleep.
In fact, research has shown that students who use their phone in the hour before bed are almost three times more likely to get less than five hours of sleep. Of course, not looking at a screen at all before sleeping would be ideal - but if that’s difficult, at least turning down the backlight and using a blue light filter app is a good start.
This strategy can even get students to work together to reduce their phone use by agreeing not to contact each other for set periods of time. They can all focus on their work without receiving lots of notifications or having their friends worry about their lack of response.
Keeping contact with friends and family, wherever they may be, is vital for revision. Students’ social life shouldn’t stop just because exams are coming up. For their well-being and to avoid burnout, they need connection, support and activities other than studying. Phones and social media can give them an easy way to plan their social life and events, as well as keeping in touch with people.
Ironically, there are many apps that can help students use their phones less. For those just beginning to work on their phone management skills, this is a great solution. One of the most well-known of these apps is Mute - it shows how much time someone is spending in front of a screen and how many times they pick up their phone. Another option is Hold, which goes even further in an attempt to try and reduce screen time by rewarding students with points for every 20 minutes they don’t look at their phone. They can then exchange these points for real-life prizes.