Friday, July 1, 2016

Social Media – a necessary evil?

How much time do you spend on your phone or digital device scanning posts, tweeting, reading and responding to messages, chatting, researching and the like? Do you go in to meltdown when your phone dies because you forgot to charge it?

There are very few of us not on one form of social media or another. I certainly enjoy the ability to keep in touch with my friends who are scattered across the UK and indeed the world. I also find tweets and blogs by fellow educationalists really useful in my professional role. However, there is a dark, dangerous side to social media that I find utterly abhorrent.

Young people have always had developing, passionate, sometime naive views that they wish to share; others less confident may think things but not say them out loud. Either way social media gives them a platform to express views without censure and often about others.

The rapidly growing number of young people with emotional and mental health issues can be often attributed to their negative self-image and self-esteem caused by their perception of what others think of them. And the modern place to find that out is on social media. I despair at the number of young people, and adults for that matter, who feel the need to digitally change their photos to make themselves look ‘better.’

At Sir Thomas Wharton we constantly remind our students of the dangers of interacting on social media and the internet, particularly around safeguarding. However, safeguarding from potential adults with immoral intent, as in the latest case with youngsters on ‘Tinder’, is not the only problem facing our children on the internet. Bullying, hurtful, spiteful and slanderous comments is sadly rife on social media. It is the biggest problem that schools face in terms of protecting our children and dealing with the conflict and complexities around it. In the past, a fall out between children was usually within a small circle of youngsters. Teachers and pastoral staff could more easily contain the issue, identify the miscreants, put support in place and nip it in the buddy. Here at Sir Thomas Wharton our highly experienced staff are excellent at doing just that.

 The use of social media to cause distress for others is becoming increasingly difficult to manage. The fallout from unpleasantness on apps such as Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and more, no longer involves one or two children. Comments are seen instantly by all who are part of that friendship group or following; they are often added to and re-posted. Things that have allegedly happened or been said out of school go viral. Victims may come into school the next day knowing half the college community have seen it whilst staff are unaware. When it happens, we act quickly. Invariably it is complex, difficult to gather evidence and challenging to unpick. Often it is as a result of an incident socially out of college or a relationship fall out. Worse still we find some parents, rather than take the role of responsible adult, add to the abuse and threats.

More recently we have uncovered chatrooms where youngsters are involved in posting offensive and slanderous remarks about staff. Fortunately we can turn to the law for protection from cyberbullying and use the UK Safer Internet Centre and The Professional Online Safety Helpline. Through this route we can access online material and deal with the offenders and we do.

The first and foremost role of our staff is as educators. They work hard to remove barriers to learning, inspire children to be successful and teach them not just the academic curriculum but how to be happy and respectful citizens in society. Increasingly this is also about how to use the internet safely and constructively.

To the students reading this I reiterate what we have told you repeatedly; before you post anything about anyone else or respond to someone else, STOP and THINK 1) How would I feel if this was about me? 2) Would I be happy for my parent or grandparent to read this? If the answer is no – don’t do it. If someone posts something that causes you distress – tell and show someone – a parent or adult at school.

To parents reading this don’t bury your head in the sand. I know we would prefer not to pry in to our children’s private lives but find a way to respectfully check your child’s interactions. Watch for signs of distress, talk to your child about the dangers of social media. If necessary take them offline or unsubscribe from that App. The hardest of all is not to instantly take sides. Check the extent of your own child’s involvement in any unpleasantness. Our children are so easily drawn in to inappropriate behaviour on line by peer pressure or a desire to be part of the group and especially not to become a victim themselves. When you are concerned about your child, when you do become aware of anything, please let us know. By working together we can support our children, deal with the issues and help them to use social media appropriately. #stopbullyingonline