STOP THE CLOCK Teachers acknowledge and accommodate for students decline in attention span.
STOP THE CLOCK Teachers acknowledge and accommodate for students’ decline in attention span.

Gen Z’s shrinking attention span

The rise of short-form content on social media has led to irreversible changes in the classroom.

Influencers walk viewers through their two-hour morning routines in the span of 20 seconds. Hour-long sports events are condensed into one minute highlight reels. Teenagers show off their abundant shopping hauls of 30 items in 30 seconds.

While scrolling through social media, a wide variety of content is thrown at viewers, with almost nothing of substance lasting more than a minute. Social media’s shift towards short-form content has made a whole generation accustomed to receiving information quickly, and in an entertaining fashion.

When TikTok surveyed its users, over 50% of them confessed that when videos are longer than a minute, it stresses them out. About a quarter of the app’s users are between the ages of 10 and 19.

This is crystal clear when taking a look at how Generation Z teens can’t seem to focus on anything for more than a minute, with both students and teachers noticing the shrinking attention spans among high schoolers.

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Social science teacher Ms. Aditi Doshi said that she first started to notice the problem when students came back from online learning.

“I have seen that once students came back from covid, particularly in that first year, it was very difficult for them to stay engaged in any kind of classroom activity for more than 10 to 15 minutes at a time,” Ms. Doshi said. “I think it makes sense when we think about the way many were learning at home when they weren’t in a quiet private space and had their phone constantly with them.”

Math teacher Ms. Kyrie Martin shares a similar sentiment, saying that during the pandemic students got used to being on their phones and scrolling through social media instead of paying attention to instruction.

“LAUSD didn’t require students to be seen on screen, and it allowed students to just tune out and be on their phones instead of paying attention,” she said. “Students got used to being able to do school and something else at the same time, and they carried that over into the classroom. Social media is addictive, they make it so that it grabs your attention and you constantly want to look at it.”

According to The Mirror’s survey, 20% of students polled have an average daily screen time between one and three hours. 48% of students polled have a daily screen time between four and six hours, and a whopping 31% of students have an average screen time greater than seven hours a day. Astoundingly, no students who responded to the poll have a screen time below one hour.

Sophomore Lauren Leal admits that she spends an average of four to five hours a day on her phone, often putting her school work on hold to mindlessly scroll on apps like TikTok and Instagram.

“I do find myself checking my phone and going on social media when I am studying or doing my homework because I get bored easily,” Leal said. “I think my short attention span is caused by the fact that I am always on social media. On average, I can only stay engaged for a few minutes, depending on what the task is.”

This lack of focus has affected how well Leal can pay attention to and understand lessons taught by her teachers.

“The longer the lesson is, the harder it is to focus on the teacher,” she said. “I like it when things are short and sweet, because it’s easier for me to pay attention and understand everything better.”

According to a study conducted by psychologist Dr. Gloria Mark, the average attention span among Americans is currently only 47 seconds.

Countless students share the struggle of focusing on anything for an extended amount of time, and teachers have begun altering their teaching styles to accommodate this.

“I try to keep my lectures shorter, or I divide them up between multiple days so it’s not a 40-minute lecture because I don’t think students have the ability to sit and focus for that long of a period anymore,” Ms. Doshi said.

Like Ms. Doshi, Ms. Martin has condensed her lessons and breaks them up with independent work.

“I like lessons where students work on their own for a little bit and it’s not just me talking to them for an hour,” Ms. Martin said.

Both teachers feel that students are incapable of actively listening to a lecture that exceeds about 30 minutes. This is why they have consciously limited the amount of time they spend verbally teaching.

Though some teachers are making accommodations for students’ inability to focus, this is not always the case. Thus, Ms. Doshi believes that a shortened attention span can be detrimental to a student’s academic performance.

“School is hard and it’s a long day with six sets of classes and expectations, and when you layer in your inability to focus because you are being drawn to whatever is on your phone, it makes it very difficult to succeed in school,” she said.

AP psychology teacher Mr. Jonathan Mitchell says that just like everything, consistent focus is something you have to learn through self-discipline.

“In life, you need to learn how to concentrate and pay attention to things that aren’t always fascinating,” Mr. Mitchell said. “That’s a skill.”

He says students don’t get the opportunity to practice this skill with the accessibility of phones.

“The phone shortens attention spans because it’s so exciting and entertaining and very different from activities like quietly reading,” Mr. Mitchell explained.

Ms. Doshi feels that people who grew up reading are better at concentrating overall.

“If you have that background, then it seems like you can balance it,” Ms. Doshi said. “You can have your social media consumption, but your brain also knows how to flip that switch and be able to focus on large amounts of text and have that sustained focus.”

Although students’ shortening attention spans are seemingly detrimental to their success, many still recognize the importance of their education.

“Even though my short attention span affects my performance at school in a negative way, I still try to do my best,” Leal said.

Fortunately, the situation is not entirely hopeless, as there are multiple ways to lengthen attention spans. Reading is one great way to practice maintaining prolonged attention since it requires individuals to concentrate on words on a page for a substantial period of time.

Americans can also monitor their social media usage by limiting their screen time or deleting apps altogether, thus maintaining and even lengthening their attention spans.

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About the Contributor
Mia Ramirez
Mia Ramirez, Staff
I never thought that one day I would sit and write news stories all the time. When I was little the only thing I liked to write about was fairytales and popstars. Now that I am older the focus of my stories have shifted. As a staff writer for The Mirror, I write stories that focus on real people and what they have to say.  I have written multiple stories for the paper and I continue to search for new stories wherever I go. Outside of journalism, I am the captain for Van Nuys’ cross Country team and am constantly looking for new ways to make people smile.
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