'We, as educators, need to help the young people in our care to manage their online lives'
Jack Talman, Head of PSHE at Hampton School discusses how to protect pupils online and argues that rather than demonising the online world, teachers must take a more subtle approach.
Last week’s report on social media and its impact upon young peoples’ mental health and wellbeing by The Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) created another flurry of concerning headlines about the online world. Whilst the report showed that social media platforms can offer young people support networks and a sense of community, it also raised questions about the potential impact of these platforms upon mental health. Social media has been described as being more addictive than cigarettes and alcohol. The RSPH surveyed 1,500 young people aged 14 - 24 years. Many respondents expressed concerns that social media is having a detrimental impact upon anxiety, depression, loneliness, sleep, body image and relationships; all factors which impact upon mental health. As a teacher involved in PSHE, reading this is not surprising, and only reinforces the fact that we, as educators, need to help the young people in our care to manage their online lives.
Faced with such terrifying statistics, what are parents and educators to do? A knee jerk reaction is to try to ban young people from using social media apps, even delete them from their phones. However, such blanket measures are rarely successful and are likely to only put us at odds with the young people we wish to help.
The report states that over 91% of 16 – 24 year olds now use social media. Other surveys show that 13 – 16 year olds can be online for up to eight hours a day. It is their world; indeed, today’s young people have been dubbed ‘digital natives’. However, this doesn’t mean that we are exempt as teachers from keeping tabs on their digital lives. Indeed, if teachers and parents choose to plead ignorance, there is nobody looking out for our young people in a domain that has been likened to a town in the Wild West where there is no sheriff keeping the citizens safe. At Hampton, we have been teaching e-safety to pupils for over 10 years now, learning that a traditional didactic teaching style may not be appropriate in this sphere, and a more nuanced approach is required.
Digital safety permeates all aspects of our PSHE programme, with our aim being to offer the young people in our care strategies on e-safety whilst empowering them to make ‘good decisions’, to seek help when needed, and to understand that offensive, bullying and dangerous behaviour is as unacceptable online as it is offline.
We believe that, rather than demonising the online world, this more subtle approach to digital wellbeing, whilst never foolproof, can help to build up the self-regulating skills our children need to enable them to make responsible and safe choices as the digital world continues to evolve.
Hampton School is holding a digital wellbeing conference on 9 June 2017: 'Digital Wellbeing, Protecting Pupils Online'. See here for more information and to book tickets.