PhotoIt’s a rare sight these days to see a teenager without a phone or laptop nearby. Popular online activities like video games or tending to social media can take up a lot of free time, but how do they affect teens’ academic performance?

A study conducted at RMIT University in Australia has provided some polarizing answers. Researchers say that students who play video games tend to perform better in math and science. However, those who use social media tend to perform worse in those same areas, as well as in reading.

Practicing similar skills

The researchers came to their conclusions after analyzing data on over 12,000 Australian teens. This included information on math, reading, and science performance, as well as each participant’s online activities. Results indicated that teens who played video games were more likely to have better math and science scores, possibly because both fields require similar skills to those used when playing games.

“Students who play online games almost every day score 15 points above the average in maths and 17 points above the average in science,” said principal investigator Alberto Posso. “When you play online games you’re solving puzzles to move to the next level and that involves using some of the general knowledge and skills in maths, reading and science that you’ve been taught during the day.”

However, the researchers found that teens who often used social media were worse off in the classroom. They posit that teens who use it often may be using it to escape from studying, which is counteractive to the learning process.

“Students who are regularly on social media are, of course, losing time that could be spent on study – but it may also indicate that they are struggling with maths, reading and science and are going online to socialize instead,” said Posso.

Social media as a tool

While the results are telling, Posso and his colleagues admit that a multitude of other factors influence academic performance for teens. For example, those who need to repeat a grade level or who regularly skip classes are bound to suffer academically, regardless of their preferred online activities.

However, Posso does say that teens who have trouble connecting to academic material could be helped by teachers who use social media as a tool.

“Teachers might want to look at blending the use of Facebook into their classes as a way of helping those students engage,” he said.

The full study has been published in the International Journal of Communication.

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