Facebook is a tempting distraction. I have it open as a tab in my browser as I write this. And look, it’s showing that I have a new notification! I must see it, immediately. Facebook designed the site to make me feel that way. This doesn’t bode well for college students. If professionals, and even some professors, have a hard time resisting the lure of Facebook, then what chance do 18-year-olds have?
New research suggests that the kids may be all right. A study of Facebook activity and grade-point averages suggests that students may learn to regulate their use of Facebook, both as a distraction from coursework and in their free time, as they move through college. Reynol Junco, an associate professor of education at Iowa State University, collected data from about 1,800 students at a four-year college. He found that students who spent a lot of time on Facebook while also trying to complete assignments tended to get worse grades.
The correlation, however, held true only for freshmen, sophomores, and juniors. Seniors tended to use Facebook less in general. For them, time spent on the site did not correlate negatively with GPA. “Seniors were less likely to post status updates than freshmen and sophomores, comment on content less than the other class ranks, use Facebook chat less than freshmen and sophomores, post photos less than juniors, tag photos less than freshmen and juniors, and view videos less than all the other class ranks,” Mr. Junco wrote in a paper published this month in the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology. It could be that freshmen are simply not as good at resisting the urge to use Facebook when they should be working, and that they get better at it as they get older.
Mr. Junco also pointed out that freshmen are scrambling to find their social footing in a strange new place while clinging to the relationships they’ve recently left behind. “Freshmen must not only adapt to a new academic environment, but also a social one in order to be successful,” he wrote. The self-regulation skills of individual students no doubt play a role at any age. Mr. Junco’s snapshot is of four groups of students, not a single group evolving over time. But he hopes the study will at least help higher-education professionals move past their own antipathy to Facebook use. An “abstinence only” approach, Mr. Junco said, is more likely to “alienate students and not allow for the leveraging of the important social affordances of Facebook in support of the first-year transition process.”