Should you ban access to social media during exam time?

Now that matric finals are in full swing it’s understandable that you want to take away all distractions so that your children concentrate on the final hurdle and get the best marks possible.

Mother did it, or tried in any event. She wanted me to cut back on my sport. I had to give up drum majorettes, which took hours of practice and a large chunk of my day. To be fair, I agreed with her.

But what I didn’t agree with was that I should cut back on sport altogether. This led me to sneaking behind her back and signing up for hockey instead. Matches were played during the week and I was a weekly border so I just kept my hockey gear at school and cleaned it myself in the laundry. No one was the wiser!

It was only after I came home with all my goods after I matriculated that my mother spotted the hockey gear among all my clothing and I declared triumphantly that I had kept this secret from her the entire year.

So what’s my point? My point is if you’re going to remove all the fun while your son or daughter slogs away for the finals all you’re going to get is resistance and some form of rebellion either directly or indirectly.

You may see technology as a distraction – and it can be! But to remove access to it altogether is just looking for trouble. And I’m not the only one who thinks so: “While some parents might want to introduce new house rules or impose a total ban on screen time during important periods such as exams, that approach could be counter-productive,” says Nola Payne, head of faculty: information and communications technology at The Independent Institute of Education, SA’s largest private higher education provider.

“However it is necessary to review and agree on how devices and especially social media will be used during this period,” she says, “and parents and guardians should play an active role in assisting young people to strike the right balance.”

Payne warns that parents will face a lot of resistance if they implement a total ban on social media interaction, which will not be conducive to a positive studying environment.

“Matric and other exams are already very stressful, and social media can help learners and students unwind and let off steam by sharing their concerns, clearing up study material confusion and encouraging each other.

“A better approach would be to rather restrict social media during focused 1-2 hour study sessions so concentration is not interrupted, and allow it during breaks – preferably away from the desk – in conjunction with a healthy snack and some fresh air.”

I think this is a far better approach too. I may not have known it back then, but hockey probably also let me blow off some steam. Even now, I find sport something that helps me to unwind. It takes my mind off the stress. While you don’t want to grant carte blanche access, you have to find a way to strike a balance.

Embrace technology

Payne says that approaching technology positively and pragmatically right from the start can help families engage better.

“It can improve their resourcefulness, open up new avenues for learning and help them better understand how to manage social interactions. Parents need to be honest about their own concerns and should support and mentor their children by creating the right environment in the online world, as they would in the offline world.

“Encourage the learning, whether it is online or offline, but set boundaries and time limits on digital engagement, study methods (which should also include pen and paper and not just digital learning) and also digital social interactions during exam time. There are thousands of mobile apps and software applications that support learning in a fun and constructive way, and that can ensure that study time is in fact study time, and not Facebook time in disguise.”

Healthy technology habits

Payne says there are four simple things parents can do to ensure healthy technology habits for life:

  • Create and schedule fun offline activities and spaces where the family can interact without technology.
  • Spend time with your younger children sharing your “tech time”. You can sit with them and create study notes or play an educational game together. This form of interaction can open up interesting discussions, in a natural way, and not feel like it is a forced conversation. The interest you show in your young child’s technology interactions will build a feeling of trust between yourselves and technology will be seen as a constructive tool for learning.
  • Respect your children’s privacy. This could be as simple as asking for their permission before you share and tag pictures of them online. If they don’t want you to do it, then respect their wishes.
  • Set boundaries (which the adults need to adhere to as well), for instance not interacting with technology during dinner or if someone is talking to you.


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