The recent New York Times article, “Facebook has 50 minutes of your time each day. It wants more,” referenced a few notable statistics:
- Mark Zuckerberg’s company reported that users spend an average of 50 minutes on its Facebook, Instagram, and Messenger platforms, which is up from 40 minutes in 2014.
- In comparison, people spend an average of 2.8 hours per day watching TV/movies, 1.07 hours eating/drinking, 19 minutes reading, and 17 minutes participating in a sport/exercising.
- Younger viewers (ages 18-34) spend just 47 percent of their viewing time on television screens compared to 40 percent on mobile devices.
Of course, the fact that people of all ages are becoming more and more attached to technology and social media should come as little surprise. If we’re being honest, it’s not just kids who have stopped reading; it’s everyone.
However, I would argue that the effects of this addiction could be particularly harmful for our young people who have not yet developed essential literacy and communication skills.
My goal and my passion, then, is to help students realize the benefits of putting their phone down for an hour or two to read a book, exercise, or simply converse face-to-face with friends and family. Beyond our official Panthers Unplugged event, where I joined 42 Maplewood freshmen in giving up our cell phones for 24 hours, my students and I continue to read about and discuss the challenges of growing up in a digital age.
Consider this study: researchers surveyed 753 middle and high school students and found that those who spent more than two hours a day on social networking sites like Facebook, Instagram or Twitter were more likely to report distress, poor mental health and even suicidal thoughts.
Or this one: researchers surveyed 467 teenagers and found that social media use, especially at night, along with the “emotional investment in social networking interactions,” resulted in “poorer sleep quality, lower self-esteem and higher levels of anxiety.”
As a teacher, I know that I can’t control what time students go to bed, or monitor their online social media use at home, but here’s what I can do: encourage them to read more!
Growing up, I read all the time, but books faced limited competition back then. There was no Vine to distract me from R.L. Stine, and no YouTube videos to keep me from finishing another Matt Christopher or Hardy Boys novel. I didn’t have the urge to check my phone every 30 seconds for a new text or Instagram like.
With that said, would I have still become an avid reader (and eventually, an English teacher) if I grew up in today’s generation? I’m not so sure.
And that brings me back to the main point of this post: as teachers and adults, we have an obligation to sell our students on the joy of reading. We can’t assume that students will see the inherent value in it, or that they will have enough willpower to turn off their phones on their own.
Instead, we have to show them. We need to talk about books with the same passion and excitement that others talk about playoff basketball games or TV shows. We need to give students time, day in and day out, to get lost in fictional worlds with characters they root for and relate to.
When we do, students begin to realize that Sherman Alexie’s novel is funnier than any Instagram meme, and that Sharon Draper’s books are far more entertaining than any Snapchat story.
That’s why, despite the troubling trends, my students give me hope. Sure, they’re glued to their smartphones in the hallway, cafeteria, and, unfortunately, even in some classes. But, walk into Room 220, and for the first 25 to 30 minutes of every period, you will find their eyes glued to something else: a book of their choice.
Sorry, Zuckerberg. My students are proof that, in an era where even grandparents know how to update a Facebook status, reading the right book is still more enjoyable than anything you can do on the iPhone.
And I’m not going to let them forget that.