How social media content robs youngsters

Stories are an effective and fun way of learningPhoto: Pixabay

My dear language teachers, we are at war.

An enemy has emerged that is slowly yet surely robbing our youngsters of their ability to focus and impairing their memory. I am referring to the popular forms of social media content such as YouTube Shorts, Reels, TikTok and Instagram videos which can last anywhere from 15 seconds to several minutes.

Access to a range of random videos on scattered topics forces the brain to shift gears too frequently and often abruptly which can be harmful to the human brain. However, these brief, attention-grabbing video clips are not easy to let go of due to their entertaining and addictive nature.

The casualty: our youngsters.

It is becoming increasingly difficult to captivate the attention of young learners and keep them engaged in the classrooms. When asked to read a long text or solve a worksheet, they are bored, distracted and even unwilling. They hunt for alternative ways, such as online notes, summaries or ChatGPT, to get over with their assignments as swiftly and easily as possible.

Hence, this is a battle that could only be won strategically. Our allies, the parents, can work to limit their children’s screen time and engage them in more in-person activities. Meanwhile, as language teachers, we may arm ourselves with engaging, enjoyable, and speedy learning methods.

Literature has always played an important part in language learning, but today more than ever, we must prioritize it, particularly short stories. You may be wondering why.

Popular forms of social media content can rob children's focus and impair their memory
AFP file photo

To understand this we must first comprehend the enemy's strategy and fight fire with fire. What makes these contents so appealing? To mention a few, they are entertaining, quick, can be repeated, require little effort to grasp, and come in plenty of varieties.

People of all ages enjoy stories, fiction has always been special as it transports us away from reality and enchants us completely. Therefore, it has the potential to offer the level of stimulation that reels and shorts do. Tiktok fans are always looking for something new or exciting, and short stories might deliver just that. We must use it to our advantage.

As the attention span of youngsters falters and wanes, it is difficult to help them concentrate and remain focused on lengthy lessons and tasks. Their inattentiveness stems from their restlessness and that in turn is caused by the constant need for rapid switching of content. Nonetheless, similar to reels and shorts, which teenagers love, short stories are less time-consuming and can be completed in one sitting. On top of that short stories are packed with enticing plot twists, characters and settings just like in movies which any child or teenager would like to enjoy.

Instead of bombarding young minds with rules of grammar and syntax, short stories allow them to be read in real context. It successfully camouflages our intention to teach new literary devices and vocabulary and their usage and absorb new teachings naturally.

Furthermore, there isn’t enough time to process the wide range of emotions that these viewers experience whilst watching these videos but when reading a short narrative, it allows time to ponder and reflect. Teachers could start with short stories of 300-400 words and work their way up. This way the length of the reading material offered will not overwhelm students.

Again, short stories revive and rekindle learners’ creative imagination by battling through the barricades created by the endless scrolling of mindless materials. Also, these stories introduce them to different cultures, countries; different perspectives, and diverse authors within a minimum time without even realizing it.

As the invaders plunder away, we must counter it vehemently and smartly. We all know that people love to talk about what interests them. So, we may invite the learners to bring their chosen short stories to class to share with their friends twice a week. It would not be a graded task but rather, a reading session for anyone to enjoy. Since short stories are of many kinds: adventure, comedy, fantasy, horror, mystery, romance, science fiction, tragedy and many more, they would have an array of options to choose from. As homework, we may ask them to listen to short stories on their devices which can be later talked about in groups. Once interested, we need not parley with their restlessness anymore.

We must win this silent war and reclaim the dwindling attention span of our young generation and short stories shall be our saviour.

Tanzima Baten is a lecturer at Brac Institute of Languages, Brac University and loves to write about all genres of Literature and Language. She can be reached at [email protected].