Social Media and Mental Health

Social Media and Mental Health

I started this term off slightly differently than normal. I always take the first week of assemblies of a new term. Normally my assemblies are about positivity and reaching our goals in one way or another.

However, one topic had started to eat away at me. I had become more and more concerned about reports linking the use of social media by young people with poor mental health. My assembly in the opening week was on this topic. A number of things had brought this topic to the front of my thinking.

The first of these reasons was personal. I bought my primary school age daughter a tablet for her birthday. This was mainly to entertain her whilst we are travelling. I was impressed with the number of features enabling me to lock down certain elements and control what she was watching. However, it got me thinking about when she is older, and I was unable to control as closely what they were viewing, who they were engaging with online and what images they would be sharing. In short, as the father of two daughters, it genuinely scared me.

Our policy at the academy towards mobile phones I had always viewed progressive. In 2015, the then Head Boy and Head Girl worked with the student council to co-construct our Mobile Phone Charter. In essence, students are allowed to use their mobile phones in social times on the ground floor. Other than that they should be away. This has generally worked pretty well, but over the last twelve months in particular, there has been a noticeable change. It is not mobile phones per se where this has been seen but the way that social media is being used. However, it is of course impossible to separate the device used to access social media and social media itself. This is an example of how the pace of technological change requires a rethink in policy.

This dovetailed with the Senate investigation into the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal. Over the Easter break, I followed this with interest. I was struck by the acknowledgement of Mark Zuckerberg no less that social media needed more controls and that regulation was “inevitable”. When the godfather of social media says this, others need to listen.

The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), of which I am a member, published results of a survey of secondary school head teachers and a Principals in England, Wales and Northern Ireland in March.

They were asked about the impact on pupils of social media use over the past 12 months:
•       95% felt that the mental health and wellbeing of a proportion of their pupils had suffered as a result of social media use, with many (39%) saying more than half of their pupils were affected.
•       Almost all had received reports of pupils being bullied on social media, with 40% saying that incidents were reported on a daily or weekly basis.
•       Almost all had received reports of pupils encountering upsetting material on social media – such as sexual content, self-harm, bullying, or hate speech – with 27% saying incidents were reported on a daily or weekly basis.
•       89% had received reports of pupils being approached by strangers on social media sites.
•       93% had received reports of pupils experiencing low self-esteem as a result of seeing idealised images and experiences on social media, with 22% saying that pupils reported such feelings on a daily or weekly basis.
•       96% had received reports of pupils missing out on sleep as a result of social media use, with 32% saying they received such reports on a daily or weekly basis.

Nine out of 10 head teachers (93%) said that new laws and regulation should be introduced to ensure social media sites keep children safe, and 77% said the government and social media companies should produce more information for parents.

In October, the government launched a strategy to make Britain “the safest place in the world to be online” with proposals for a voluntary code of practice for social media providers, but the NSPCC wants the code to be mandatory and backed up by an independent regulator.

When Ofsted visited us in November they agreed that our personal development, behaviour and welfare was outstanding. They particularly praised our safeguarding by saying that there were no areas for improvement. We educate our students about staying safe online and we gained the quality mark for online safety. We are brilliant as an academy at keeping any issues at the academy gate, enabling our students to thrive in a supportive and inclusive atmosphere. However social media is a genuine threat to this as we simply cannot control it.

I had started to move towards a view that we needed to have greater control of mobile phones and social media specifically in the academy. However, I wanted to speak to the student council and parents.

I sent a survey out to parents and almost 200 replied. 69% supported tighter controls on mobile phone use. 91% wanted cameras and videoing banned. 74% of parents did not want their children to be able to listen to music at all during the academy day. However, 67% of parents said that if students were supervised they would support mobile phones being used for an educational purpose.

I expected the conversation with the student council to be more challenging. However, I wanted this not to be seen as a “ban on mobile phones” but an opportunity to reclaim our academy day “free” from mobile phones and social media. Although not all the student councillors agreed, a larger majority agree than I expected.

Therefore from July mobile phones should either not be brought into the academy or they need to be turned off and in bags during the academy day from 8.50am to 3.20pm.

The academy needs to be a safe space where children can be children. Where young people can talk, laugh and socialise face to face rather than via a device. Where any issues either online or outside can be left at the academy gate. I hope this rather long blog post has helped to explain our position on this topic but also highlights how we make decisions here at the academy. One of our Co-op values is democracy. I believe in consultation and co-construction of policy.

Together we will make something amazing. Thank you for taking the time to read this blog post.

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