Social Media - the pressures on young people

Is social media more stressful than exams for pupils?

E-safety Social MediaAccording to Marion Gibbs, a retiring head teacher from James Allen's Girls School in Dulwich, teenagers feel more pressure and stress from social media than they do exams. She refers to a 'Goldfish bowl' world where girls especially feel an overwhelming pressure to look amazing and be popular.

Recently I have seen a definite rise amongst younger and younger students using social media as a platform to prove their popularity and the anxiety it causes when it goes wrong. So I am inclined to agree with Ms Gibbs opinions. I am talking from the position of step parent and teacher.

From my own experience, my selfie-stick loving step children have taken to using special apps in search of more followers on instagram because in their words 'you're really unpopular if you have no followers'. They are 9 and 12. Following on from that, I know of adults too that use these apps to increase their online profiles status by 'buying up' followers and likes. In an attempt to appear more successful and more popular in job hunting for example. The superlatives echo our need to feel accepted and looked up to. Are we all guilty? Do we all in fact feel the same pressures?

In my role a PSHE coordinator I am constantly hearing how students can have literally 24 hours a day of constant contact, photos, statuses and texts at the touch of a button. This can be a particular problem when students fall out and where it was previously left at school gates, now students complain of an inescapable virtual presence at every turn. And in an environment where students can have in excess of hundreds of friends and followers, every thought and picture is scrutinised, judged and commented on. Alluding to the pre aforementioned comments of the head teacher, these issues are all running parallel to an already stressful time of their young lives studying, learning and taking exams, against a backdrop of unequivocal pressure to be popular and to 'fit in'. I feel for them a great deal. As an 80's child, I am so pleased that our school years weren't filled with selfies and status updates and instead was just being nagged for spending a mere 5 minutes on a landline.

Scarily, it's now reported that kids can spend up to 44 hours a week in front of smart phones and tablets, with a further 23% admitting to some sort of addiction to games and social media. Potential warning signals of addiction can range from checking emails and status updates several times an hour; a complete loss of time when on phones and tablets, preferring to interact online than face to face and using tablets and phones first thing on waking and then last thing when going to sleep. Knowing this applies to at least half of my class, it's apparent how addiction and pressure to keep 'in the social media loop' is a complete distraction from real life and provides some sort of escapism.

So, looking forward, what can we do to alleviate these pressures and refocus children? I think firstly lead by example, I know I am guilty of scrolling through my phone during downtimes, it's important to show we can have self control and abide by no phone/tablet times - even though initially this would be unpopular it does provide an alternative focus from technology and gives a chance for free time to be 'uncontaminated'.

We can encourage students to turn off notifications from social media sites, if, every time the screen flashes up with another picture or status update, the young person is so tempted to stop what they're doing and then be drawn back into the cycle. A recent study by Johnathan Spira pefectly illustrates the issue in his findings. If you spend 30 seconds scrolling the internet it will then take you at least 5 minutes to fully re-engage in what you were doing beforehand.

Schools can also adopt good practice too by teaching children the pitfalls of using social media in unhealthy ways and understand its place in relationships. E-safety Support Premium and Premium Plus members can download a series of e-safety lessons that deal extensively with this topic.

We can raise awareness of campaigns like 'ditch your smart phone for a day' (June 28th)...I know I intend to heavily promote this in school, introducing it like a sponsored silence where it's a challenge and discussions can ensue where students share stories of how they coped and what they did with all their new found available time off social media. Ironically, the promotion of the event has massively gathered memento through sharing on social media sites, but, this is also how many people have been reached and reflected upon their own habits, moreover it reflects a desire amongst society to change our habits to improve our relationships and lifestyles. I know that June 28th will be an interesting experiment, no doubt reported in depth by some on social media the next day. I look forward to it.

A recent poll by Schools Improvement Net, posed the question 'Is the pressure to look good on social media harming young people?' - see the results here

Written by Vicki Dan on June 04, 2015 10:19

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