A first-of-its kind study on the impact of social networking activities on evangelical Christian college students is raising some red flags but also acknowledging the benefits of tools such as Facebook and text messaging.
"It isn't yet clear whether over-zealous use of computer-based activities will be formally accepted in the U.S. as a distinctive, unique form of addiction," commented Gordon College psychology professor Bryan C. Auday, who teamed up with Sybil Coleman, Gordon College professor of social work, for the study.
"What is clear from our study is that a surprisingly high percentage of Christian students who frequently engage in electronic activities report several troubling negative consequences. But ironically they also mention many positive outcomes related to the time that is spent on Facebook or text messaging their friends," Auday added.
For their study, titled "Pulling Off the Mask," Auday and Coleman surveyed 1,342 students between 18 and 27 years of age on four evangelical Christian college campuses with an equal class representation to explore the specific trends, behaviors and attitudes Christian students perceive of themselves regarding social media usage.
Questions, posed entirely online, included the amount of time participants engage in a specific electronic activity during an average day; the primary reason for using a specific site; the impact (both positive and negative) of usage on personal life and relationships; the ability or inability to stop usage, and the possible conflict of usage with personal Christian values.
"We'd received enough anecdotal evidence from college students to raise some red flags about these issues," said Coleman. "But we felt it was crucial to gather scientific data from students about both the benefits and concerns (of usage) if we were going to get a clearer picture about how we could best respond."
What the professors found after conducting their survey was that over half (54 percent) of participants confessed to "neglecting important areas of their life" due to spending too much time on social media sites.
And when asked if one were to define addiction as "any behavior you cannot stop, regardless of the consequences," 12.7 percent affirmed that they believe they are addicted to some form of electronic activity.
Around 21 percent, meanwhile, felt that their level of engagement with electronic activities at times caused a conflict with their Christian values.
"During the critical years of young adulthood, Christian college students need to be mindful that academic and social development are important, yet incomplete in terms of nurturing the whole person. The spiritual condition also needs attention," commented Coleman.
"Since the evidence from this study raises several concerns for their time management skills, possible neglect of important areas in their lives and their psychological and spiritual health, the next question needs to be, how can we help?" she added.
Conducted in April 2009, "Pulling Off the Mask: The Impact of Social Networking Activities on Evangelical Christian College Students . . . A Self-Reported Study" was released this past Thursday at the 60th anniversary conference for the Religion Newswriters Association in Minneapolis.
Gordon College, located in Wenham, Mass., is among the top Christian colleges in the nation and the only nondenominational Christian college in New England. The institution is a member of the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities.