Phones and social media are an inevitable part of our youth culture and it would be unfair to stigmatise young people for their desire to be active online, especially when society is ever more centred on the internet. However, recent data from The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award (DofE) shows that 84% of teachers are concerned about the effects of social media on students’ wellbeing.
I am one of the 84%, a teacher at a secondary school in Sheffield and a father to a very aware two-year-old. I am not however in line with our French counterparts or culture secretary Mr Hancock who have previously called for a mobile phone ban in schools. To take them away would be akin to a form of cultural cleansing. It would also be exceptionally hard to enforce and could potentially alienate student/teacher or adult/youth relationships further; relationships which if nurtured well can be the keystone to influencing a positive use of social media.
The concerns don’t feel unfounded though, a further 64% of teachers are worried about young people’s lack of confidence and the pressure they feel to be perfect. The government has pledged £2 billion to be directed at mental health projects, including a mental health professional to be available to every school. We can hope this will come to fruition but the sceptic in me sees this as a sticking plaster holding back an avalanche of future issues; a treatment rather than prevention.
Often it is easy to forget the onslaught of 24/7 social media and the effects it can have on young minds. They can’t leave ‘it’ in the classroom and when they go home ‘it’ is always with them. Even if they do choose to turn off their phones, this can often cause greater anxiety about what they might be missing out on. A cultural characteristic that I managed to avoid whilst at school, due to its limited existence.
Simply asking a student to ‘switch off’ is unfair and a misunderstanding of their social dynamic, which is dependent on connectivity. It should also not be assumed that young people know how to do this.
There is limited, if any, education or training given to young people about how to actually ‘switch off’. The DofE findings also show 73% of teachers are concerned that not enough life skills are being taught in school, which should arguably include social media use.
We should be looking towards providing young people with justifiable (to their peers) means of ‘switching off’, therefore not setting them up for online ostracisation. The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award and other similar out of school activities are an oasis for this to happen. The most common reflection from students, after their expedition, is the relief they felt from having a weekend away from their phones.
Creating spaces where phones and social media are not in use is vital to the development of young people. It’s important that we provide them with the skills they need to ‘switch off’, the resilience they need to be less worried about group chats or the confidence they need to maintain a fluid conversation without a phone.
It’s not all doom and gloom and whilst the concerns raised by teachers are valid it is important to remember that the pressure young people are under today is vastly different and increased in scale from a decade before. They are taking on much harder examinations, are progressing in a much more competitive market place and contending with hugely increased costs for further education; it’s no wonder they’re stressed. Yet so many succeed and thrive on a day to day basis, but it’s the ones that have been on adventures without a phone that are most noticeable in their success.