Every year we meet together as a leadership group, with our board members and trustees to look at an area of school life on our annual focus day. This has covered all manner of subjects – building projects, HR, vision statements and the digital revolution count amongst recent topics. At the end of October this year we had one of the most interesting and useful of these that I have ever attended, looking at pupil wellbeing. During our Saturday morning session we heard from a local psychologist who set the context for us. We heard about the challenges that our youngsters face at the time when their brains are growing and developing the most – and considered how tough it is for them.
Much of the research is pretty bleak – we hear time and again how much less happy our children (the millennials) are than we were and how they cannot cope with the normal stress and anxiety that daily life presents them with. Ironically, in a world with more of everything, the basics do not always seem to be there, and our children cannot always make the right choices for themselves. In school we see it manifest in a number of ways but most notably with the playing out of adolescent relationships in cyber-space. Our boys and girls face the challenges of making it through the teenage years with 24 hour connectivity and with the world being aware of what they are doing. It’s definitely not easy – and our job as parents and educators is to help them to manage these online relationships better. Knowing a little bit about the neuroscience behind the development of the teenage brain can help, and I urge you to read some of the literature on the matter.
A focus day is not a focus day without some outcomes and we set about considering some discussion points as our session closed. One of them was the role and place of the mobile phone in our children’s lives. We have addressed this before – in last year’s parents’ strategy meeting and with the PTA – and we felt that there was a growing level of support from parents to limit pupils’ use of phones at school and to help educate them better on the use of phones in their lives in general. This piece from the Times shows us perhaps just how much phones can be an addiction for young people – and perhaps this is a habit that we want our children to break (or at least control) sooner rather than later.
What can you do?
✔ Monitor your children’s use of their phones – many of them spend hours a day online and much of what they are doing is not productive and potentially harmful to themselves and others.
✔ Consider where phones are allowed (never in the bedroom, nor at the dinner table perhaps).
✔ Make sure that you model good behaviour – if you are addicted to WhatsApp then it’s likely that your children will think this is normal.
✔ And check what they are writing – or sending – to each other. Once it has gone, no message can really be deleted, and we know from experience that unpleasant images and messages can be extremely hurtful.
When we were young we fell out with each other, made up and got on with life in a way that youngsters find much harder today. We had private disputes (not shared with a WhatsApp group) and our parents did not get involved. We cannot turn back the clock, and I am not suggesting that we do, but we can help our children to manage their online activity better, and encourage them to look for alternative activities when they have free time….