How do we better engage with our young people so we understand the issues they are facing in both the online and real world?

Posted on: 27 Jul 2017
Posted by: James Goodman

James Goodman, Director of Digital Learning at Monkton Combe School, addresses the issues facing young people in the digital world and outlines what his school do to tackle them.

Streaking, the latest teenage mobile phone craze, is something that most parents, once they know what it actually is (two people sending messages back and forth for a consecutive number of days via the app Snapchat), might feel is relatively harmless .

But how do we respond when a 13 year old can’t put down their phone at night because they have to reply or the streak will be ruined? Long-running streaks are highly coveted and contribute to high levels of internet use.

What do we say to another Year 9 who says they struggle socially and it is just easier to have their phone out than to engage with those around them?

According to the Royal Society for Public Health report 37.3% of UK 15 year olds are ‘extreme internet users’ (defined by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) as using the internet for more than six hours on a weekend day), the second highest in all OECD countries. The report states that young people who spend more than two hours per day on social media are more likely to report poor mental health.

So how do we help teenagers use technology appropriately without becoming victims of the addictive power of social media? The work of Karl Hopwood, who sits on the advisory board for the UK Safer Internet Centre and the education advisory board for Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, states that “we need to take a balanced approach, making sure that we promote the incredible opportunities that the internet and new technologies offers children and young people alongside responding to the potential risks.”

Some schools enforce a total ban on mobile phones during the school day. Although this reduces distractions to learning, and time spent on social media at school, it doesn’t teach them to make responsible decisions at other times. As a senior school, whose feeders ban phones completely, (understandably, given the age of the pupils), we find many new pupils are unable to use them appropriately.

The challenge, as ever, is to educate. We need to enable teenagers to learn to receive the benefits of social media including greater resilience and wellbeing, as cited in the Education Policy Institute’s report, without missing out on the real world community.

We take our pastoral care very seriously at Monkton. At the senior school, rather than a total ban, we introduced mobile free zones, such as our dining hall and chapel, to create space for us all to connect as a community.

We are about to introduce the “10 second rule” to encourage students in a social setting to only use their phone to check and respond to urgent messages and not sit consumed by their screen.

At night we ask all Year 9 & 10 to hand in all mobile devices, as well as offering a place to leave devices for older students, to create a process of making their own good choices.

We combine this with regular opportunities in Personal Development lessons to discuss the latest technologies and how our students are using them, as well as one off talks by the likes of Karl Hopwood to our staff, parents and students.

So should we allow students to streak? The question should be how do we better engage with our young people so we understand the issues they are facing and help them engage positively in both the online and real world.

About James Goodman

James Goodman is Director of Digital Learning at Monkton Combe School in Bath.