Guest post: "The online world is here to stay - let's put down our devices and pay attention"
Head, Wimbledon High School, and mother of two teenagers
Posted on: Mon 18-Jan-16 13:16:18
(6 comments )
Revolutions: they're exciting, challenging and unsettling in equal measure, and this digital revolution is no different. As a teacher and Head, I am a big fan of using innovative technology and interactive devices in the classroom. But it's what can happen outside that worries me. In those key years when teenagers are learning who they are and who they want to become, their most powerful messages now come all too often from vloggers and Instagram, from gaming and Snapchat.
Potentially, this can seriously compromise the growing up process for teens and tweens and all too often mark the premature end of childhood. So when statistics from Childline cite social media and cyber bullying as key modern day pressures worrying children and dramatically affecting their happiness, as parents and educators we need to put down our own devices and pay attention.
The following are ideas for practical strategies to help navigate this new landscape and safeguard the mental wellbeing of our children:
Build digital awareness – as a family
My school is working with parents and pupils to develop an online 'screen-time at home' protocol. Step one is surveying pupils and parents about what is the norm in their family – and crucially, do rules apply to parents? We know toddlers need our attention; but our older children do too. Do we leap up at every bleep of our phone? Let's show our children that we have choices as to when (and indeed whether) to read and respond to emails, texts and social media alerts. (Even better – turn the alerts off where feasible.)
In those key years when teenagers are learning who they are and who they want to become, their most powerful messages now come all too often from vloggers and Instagram, from gaming and Snapchat.
If you don't work in IT, you might not be one step ahead of your teen when it comes to digital footprints and privacy settings, but show an interest and get them to help. Contact your school for advice – they might be able to put on digital awareness sessions for parents.
Could the call one father was taking just as he picked up his child from our 11+ exam really not have waited, even just three minutes, to take time to hear how his child got on? That's as much about kindness as anything. We've just run a 'secret acts of kindness' week with our Year 8s and of course you can tell a lot about a school by the way pupils treat each other, and the mutual respect that permeates the place. Be there with a reassuring word when unthinking responses of online 'friends' who might not even be known in real life, assume disproportionate significance to your teen. And contact his or her school immediately if it looks like cyber-bullying stems from there.
Teens can naturally be quite cynical – harness that! Encourage them to raise an eyebrow at the supposedly perfect world which peers might be presenting online. Schools do a lot of work on body image and the manipulation inevitably associated with it in the virtual world. Without taking anything away from the complexity of teens' anxieties (and building self-esteem could be a whole separate blog), you can try and help keep perspective, help them intellectualise and decide whether or not other people's lives (online friends, advertising, or Kim Kardashian's omnipresent pneumatic body) are going to affect their own.
Keep it real… and sometimes boring
Celebrate 'real life' hobbies – even (maybe especially) if they would not be your choices; support those interests that your teenager claims as his or her own. Avoid the temptation to overschedule when they are younger; let children have space to just be.
Schools bursting with co-curricular opportunities (great as they are for building self-esteem) are now introducing 'nothing time'. Children know how to "see the world in a grain of sand" and we should give them the room to do that. A long family walk may elicit eye-rolling and boredom – perfect. Equally, crash out and watch a classic movie – sometimes it will be your teen's choice and sometimes not!
And a few quick wins
Give your child an alarm clock, so that mobiles can be removed from the bedroom as part of the bedtime ritual. Make use of a 'tech basket' where all family members deposit their devices before mealtimes or before sitting down to watch a favourite TV programme. Initiate something fun (and digital) as a family, so that you can together enjoy the many wonders and delights of our digital world. Cue more rolling of eyes, perhaps, but family video anyone? Or a mother and son FIFA match on Xbox? To stage a battle between the old guard and the new is to miss the point entirely – our socially connected online world is here to stay.
By Jane Lunnon
Keep it real and sometimes boring.
I love that.
I'm forever being called "boring" when I suggest walks. But they always manage to find sticks to poke things with
Yeah good post! Set limits. Be a good example etc. it's hard to know what to do these days.
Brilliant advice and some great tips, thank you.
Maybe the call couldn't wait. I still shudder about one phone call that I nearly didn't answer.
I don't really like the idea of the school surveying the kids on their parents home life. Sounds a bit 1984 to me.
We have no devices at the table and take time to have a conversation with DD. We also talk very basically about how things aren't always true online (she's only in Year2) and she only uses DH's iPad for offline game play. Sadly, she's already asking for a phone (which she won't get for ages!)
I worry a fair bit about her being online in the future. I'm pleased there wasn't FB when I was growing up and it's hard to know how best to help her make good decisions about social media.