Screens, Internet, Social Media: effects on teenage (human!)wellbeing and performance

Today I’m doing a talk for the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference Heads of 6th Form on the effects of screens and social media. I enjoy doing work for HMC because they’re so well organised and the audiences are engaged and inquisitive but I do not enjoy trying to squish it into only an hour! As always, I make this a bit easier by providing loads of handouts, some of which will be printed for the event and the rest sent electronically. I’ll put some of the handouts at the end of this post, too, so that you can all use them, whoever you are.

There are two new items I’d like to direct you to, which I may or may not refer to in my talk:

  1. Last week, the Telegraph reported that a code has been approved and is expected to be made law by Parliament this summer, making social media giants legally responsible for the content that young people see. How this is going to work in practice is, frankly, very hard to see, but it’s great that there’s a commitment by legislators to do something about the distressing and potentially damaging content that young people can see. The appalling suicide of teenager Molly Russell after seeing images of self-harm seems to have been a trigger for this new code. Facebook, Google, Instagram etc will be barred from giving children content that is “detrimental to their physical or mental health or wellbeing.” How they will judge that is beyond me, frankly, but there are huge fines for infractions so they’d better work it out!

2. And here is an excellent post by Alex Hems, the head of St George’s School in Edinburgh. I think this is a strong, sensible and measured approach which sets parameters and sanctions but does not ban phones. banning, as I argue often, is one answer but it is too easy and it is not the right answer because it has further negative consequences and does not educate for life or develop self-control or harness intrinsic motivation. I particularly draw your attention to these two passages:

“We want girls to recognise the positives that technology offers, but we also believe that it is up to us as teachers to establish the parameters within which phones are used. In this way we are modelling for them what is appropriate and constructive, but show clearly that the phone that is left out on the desk once its use has passed becomes a distraction and is not acceptable.”

“We have clear sanctions for those who break these rules, and we give a great deal of time to educating girls about how to manage social media… and the importance of healthy sleep patterns, which can so often suffer when phone-use is out of control.”

I did some work with St George’s when they were introducing their new policy. The school had extensively canvassed opinions and concerns from the girls, staff and parents and then I spoke to each of those audiences. As you can imagine, those three groups (actually four, because I spoke to senior and junior age groups separately) had very different thoughts, and it was challenging to pick our way through them, but I think we came up with informed solutions that really do work for everyone. Then they just need to be modelled and lived and upheld. Sounds to me as though St G’s are doing just that.

Selected resources for schools and families:

If you want to see the Powerpoint presentation for today, it’s here: www.slideshare.net/NicolaMorgan1961/effects-of-screensphones-on-teenageany-brains-and-what-to-do-about-it


Many thanks to HMC for inviting me to speak for, I think, the 5th time. It’ll be a tough day, though: earlier, I have a meeting with the Samaritans, to finalise a document about suicide and self-harm that I’ve been advising on; and later I’m meeting someone to talk about writing about talking about death. But after that I’ll be heading towards my tiny, premature but rapidly growing grandson for therapeutic baby time. There really is nothing more calming and grounding than looking into the eyes of a tiny milk-drunk baby. And I will certainly not have my phone in my hand!

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