Facebook use by students may be compulsive and can lead to feelings of being depressed, a student study found.
Over 46 percent of 500 students surveyed by senior Alexandra Mitchell said they have gotten in a fight on Facebook, and 40 percent reported feeling hurt due to something they saw on the social networking site.
"I've seen the pluses and minuses, and I wanted to study what the benefits and drawbacks were of Facebook," said Mitchell, 17, who admitted she had at one time or another personally experienced the drawbacks.
Mitchell completed the independent research project through the school's three-year humanities program. She said she chose Facebook as a topic because of its prevalent use among her peers. The majority of respondents were female—63 percent—and 37 percent were male.
What stood out to her in her findings was Facebook as a distraction. Over 40 percent of students reported they checked the site more than seven times per day—and they do homework with Facebook open or minimized.
Though the majority of student respondents said they didn't think the site affected their grades (41 percent reported an academic average of 90-95 percent), Mitchell said she thought Facebook's impact on academics was more serious than students liked to admit.
"There may be some self-deception there. People think they can multi-task but that may not be the case. I'm more conscious now of how using Facebook can make getting my work done take longer and I try not to use it anymore while doing homework."
Mitchell has compiled her findings into a research paper and plans to present the results to her peers.
Humanities at John Jay High School
The opportunity for the sort of in-depth study undertaken by Mitchell is open to any student at the high school, said Dr. Marguerite Hefferon, who directs the program with teacher Therese Von Steenburg. It offers students the opportunity to explore a topic—philosophy, literature, religion, art, music, history or language—and relate it to the human condition.
“It’s really the chance for kids to take something outside of public school requirements and get experience thinking critically and solving problems,” said Hefferon.
Though 15 students enroll in the humanities each year, only about one-third of them see it through until their senior year.
Hefferon described some past student projects with a mixture of awe and respect.
"You never know what is going to interest them. One year, a student who had a personal experience with someone with schizophrenia wrote a screenplay of their life story. She neded up filming it—casting it, hiring actors, the whole thing. Another student took the idea of oral histories and collected the stories of a group of immigrants through —and the organization is now trying to help the student get the anthology published," she said.
What struck Hefferon about the results of Mitchell's work was the pressure students seem to face to stay linked with one another—that they participate in Facebook out of fear—a fear of what they are missing or of what might be said about them if they are not online, a theme she said was explored at the
Those findings also interested Dr. Christopher Griffin, who helped Mitchell design her study. Griffin directs the guidance program at John Jay, has training in research methodologies and oversees a district-wide task force on bullying.
"I'm not surprised that 40 percent of our students have, at one time or another, been upset by something that 'went down' on Facebook. When we conducted our survey [on bullying], the students had mixed feelings on whether or not cyberbullying was an issue for our students. But when we did our focus groups, online 'stuff' was all they could talk about."
Mitchell said she thought students and parents need to work together to establish limits but students need to also learn how to self-monitor their behavior.
"We can't get away from Facebook, so for me, finding the balance was important. If you say homework takes you five hours, think about how much of that five hours is really on Facebook or email," said Mitchell, who has had a computer in her bedroom since the seventh grade. Her parents, Grant Mitchell, Westchester County's Mental Health Commissioner, and Mary Ellen Mitchell, a nurse practicioner at Phelps Memorial Hospital, let her figure out her own limits early on, she added.
She hoped parents reading about her work would not become more invasive about their teen's use of Facebook, but pay attention to any differences in their child's behavior and ask about it—being angry after using the computer, for example.
This Spring, Mitchell becomes the second in the family to graduate from John Jay——and she's thrilled to have just been accepted at Syracuse University's Newhouse School of Communications.
Parents and students, do you discuss the use of Facebook together? Are there limits, self-imposed or otherwise? What do you think of Mitchell's research? Let us know in the comments.