The transition to Guided Home Learning has really thrown those of us who focus on pastoral wellbeing and safeguarding a bit of a curve ball.
The current situation requires us all to work in ways that seem precisely opposite to much of the screen time guidance we have long been giving to pupils, parents and fellow professionals. And here we are, staring at screens all day long – and we don’t have much choice about it.
The good news is that we don’t need to panic. Screens are not, by themselves, to be feared. It is entirely possible for adults and young people to have ‘good’ screen time and to derive great benefit from these ubiquitous gadgets.
Screens have got a bad rap in recent years. It is true that there is such a thing as ‘bad’ screen time. Examples include striking up online relationships with people who may cause harm, mindlessly being drawn along by click-bait where the experience is curated by an algorithm rather than through the thinking and conscious decision-making of the user, or hiding behind online activities as a way to avoid having meaningful in-person relationships. There are certainly ways in which escaping into the online world can cause us unhappiness and harm.
However, there are a great many ways in which screens provide immense opportunities for positive impact and never have we all felt that positive impact more than now. The vast citizenry of the planet, old and young, have delighted in discovering platforms previously known only to the most technically savvy. Who, among us, has not had a Zoom call at some point in the past 8 weeks? Our retreat into our homes has led us to get comfortable with being online at an eye-watering pace and, although we would obviously prefer not to be in this situation, we are grateful for broadband, 4G and Wifi. And we are finally grateful for our screens!
As parents and teachers, we do still need to mindful of ensuring that the time young people spend on their devices is ‘good’ and not ‘bad’ screen time.
We should be involved and curious about what our girls are getting up to. By far the biggest worry for parents and teachers about young people spending time online is that we don’t know what they are up to; open dialogue is vital. We should discuss what apps children are using and what they are doing with them. They are excited about their apps, games and activities and will usually be happy to discuss what they love about them. This will foster a positive discussion, rather than a negative one, about what benefits they are getting and whether there are any downsides to be mindful of.
Open dialogue is vital.
We should also encourage open use of screens, in shared spaces in the house. This may feel impossible in the current situation with everyone in the home, conducting lessons and meetings on separate devices. But coaxing young people out of bedrooms, even if they just sit in a corner of the living room whilst being online, will help them to keep some connection to their in-person world and will help parents keep an eye.
We should try out their digital world too. There is no way to really understand what it is that’s enjoyable about an activity until we give it a go ourselves. Set up your own account. Try making a TikTok; play some Fortnite! You may be pleasantly surprised by how much fun you derive from it and you will then understand why your child does. This can also be a great opportunity for bonding with an otherwise emotionally distanced teenager. It can be amazing to see them come alive as they try to get an adult up and running with a bit of tech that they know and love. Let the roles be reversed; let them show you the ropes. They will love it… and you just might too.
Gaming, perhaps, deserves a special mention here. Online gaming, from Minecraft to Fortnite, can offer some great benefits that are often overlooked by those worried about addiction, time-wasting and avoidance of exercise. These concerns should not be dismissed; they are very real and legitimate concerns about the time that children and young people spend using games and the impact those games should definitely be monitored and mitigated. However, for a child playing games in a responsible and time-managed way, they can provide an array of experiences that can be enriching and stimulating as well as providing connections with peers, educational experiences and opportunities to work collaboratively. The range of possible games is enormous, from the fantastical to the educational, and the calming to the team-building; there are games for all different types of gamers and there is enjoyment, bonding and benefit to be found through families exploring these options together.
Screens have been a lifeline and will continue to play an invaluable role.
So, although we must all remain vigilant about ensuring that young people are staying safe online and that their mental health is not undermined by such activities, we can all perhaps put our shoulders down and celebrate the positives of screens. They have been a lifeline for us all and they will continue to play an invaluable role as we find our way through this time that we will not soon forget.
This article about gaming includes some ideas of games you or your daughter might like to try. Please also remember that the pastoral team is very much online and ready to support your daughter should any issues arise. Don’t hesitate to get in touch.
Blog post written by Ms Brass, Senior Deputy Head, who heads up the pastoral programme at South Hampstead.