Nfld. & Labrador

Blame social media, video games for behavior problems in school, educators say

Growing up in the social media age is doing more harm than good, says a school counsellor in St. John’s.

Students arranging fights and drug deals on phones; staying up all night gaming

School counsellors Angela Wilmott (top right) and Boyd Perry (bottom right) expressed their concerns over things that students are exposed to through technology during CBC's education forum, Inside the Classroom. (Aaron Amat/Shutterstock, CBC)

Growing up in the social media age is doing more harm than good, according to a school counsellor on the northeast Avalon.

Boyd Perry said having access to a limitless world of information can be beneficial to learning, but many young kids are not equipped to handle the flood of information they are getting through their screens.

"Young people have more access and more information. We automatically think that's a good thing," said Perry.

"They aren't yet ready … to develop a critical way of analyzing the information they are getting."

During CBC's education forum, Inside the Classroom, featuring 30 educators from across the province, several teachers and counsellors raised issues about social media, video games, and their impact on student behaviours.

Social media issues

"A lot of the problems we have in school are because of social media," said Joe Santos, a high school teacher on the northeast Avalon.

"There's very few students now in schools that don't have some kind of device they can communicate with."

Joe Santos, a high school teacher on the northeast Avalon, said students often make sinister plans quietly with their cell phones. (CBC)

Students are speaking behind each other's backs and sometimes making sinister plans in total silence — out of earshot from intervening teachers.

Santos said some of the issues they've encountered range from settling scores with violence, to making drug deals, all arranged quietly through the use of cell phones in school.

Up all night

Technology raised concerns with other teachers as well, who spoke of students coming to class zonked after long nights of video gaming.

"They're too tired to learn," said Kimberly Fifield, an elementary school teacher on the northeast Avalon.

"They could fall asleep in class, they could become agitated, they're more irritable. They're just unable to focus on what you're trying to teach them in the run of a day."

Elementary school teacher Kimberly Fifield said her students come to class tired from playing video games all night. (CBC)

According to Santos, attendance rates go down after the release of a highly anticipated video game, as his students stay up all night to finish the game.

The long hours spent playing video games, sometimes graphic and violent, can have an impact over time, said Angela Wilmott, a school counsellor in central Newfoundland.

"If you're role playing war games for hours every day, it has an impact in how your brain is working and how you're dealing with stress and anxiety," she said.

While there is some scientific debate over the impact of video game addiction, several studies have linked playing for excessive hours with issues like depression, anxiety, and attention deficit disorder. Whether gaming is causing the disorders, or is simply an outlet for kids with those disorders, is unproven.

Questionable language

Video games could also be partially responsible for the language kids are using, Wilmott said.

Kids play interactive games like Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto, where their online teammates and opponents could be adults.

Online games like Call of Duty put younger students into social interactions with strangers, who could be much older and using foul language, said school counsellor Angela Wilmott.

Wilmott said she worries about the kids being exposed to vulgar language through those interactions.

"That's becoming much more common," she said. 

"To see that now in primary, elementary… Where are those kids going to be in Grade 11?"

It's a question Perry also ponders, as he sees students at his school being consumed by technology.

"We see that shift [to the social media age] and think they are so much more exposed to things, but they are not ready to handle the sorts of things they are exposed to," he said.

About the Author

Ryan Cooke works for CBC out of its bureau in St. John's.

With files from Ramona Dearing

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