Heads, deputies and pastoral leads from schools across the South East gathered at Cranleigh School to hear experts from the fields of neuroscience, mental wellness and adolescent psychology discuss the impact of technology on the mental health of teenagers.
Earlier this year Cranleigh become the first boarding school in the UK to prohibit the use of mobile phones for pupils in its first two year groups (Years 9 and 10). Cranleigh, a dedicated co-educational boarding school, educates pupils from age 13 to 18. Staff claims that the move has proved popular with parents and pupils alike. At the same time the School provided each pupil with an iPad containing educational apps and is incorporating tech-based learning into every lesson.
The conference brought together experts and educators with an interest in the impact of technology on teenage mental health, to share ideas and experiences, to learn from pioneering work going on in this area and to create a network of links and best practice. Held in partnership with leading mental health charity, The Charlie Waller Trust, the one-day conference featured keynote speeches from: Clinical and Developmental Psychologist Dr John Coleman; Neuroscientist, columnist and stand-up comedian Dr Dean Burnett; founder of the Everyday Sexism Project Laura Bates BEM; Clare Stafford CEO of the Charlie Waller Memorial Trust and Dr Andra Saxel, Cranleigh’s Deputy Head Pastoral. Workshops were led by Vicki Shotbolt, CEO of ParentZone, Claire Eastham, author of We’re All Mad Here, and Sam Cooke, Housemaster at Cranleigh.
Dr Saxel said: ‘So much disparate research on the impact of technology on teenage mental health is being undertaken at the moment. We are embracing technology in all areas of the curriculum but have become worried about the constant use of social apps. Research shows that young people are
increasingly unhappy and anxious, and to some degree this can be linked to overuse of social media apps and smartphones. Quite rightly it is a matter of concern for schools and parents alike. We felt there was a compelling need for a conference to address the issues all together. We will hold a similar conference for parents.’
Drs Coleman and Burnett explained the mechanics of the teenage brain, its need for sleep and help with focussing concentration and its particular susceptibility to the addictive nature of social media apps.
Laura Bates called for schools and parents to open up dialogue about the body issues that can be caused by the perfect world of selfies, and the extreme pornography that is available for children to view on unprotected websites. She said “For too long, we have attempted to bury our heads in the sand, with some naively arguing that discussions about sex, consent and online pornography risk ‘giving young people ideas’. But the reality is that they are already exposed to such ideas, perhaps to a greater extent than many parents and teachers even realise. Either we give them the tools to navigate modern technology, to use it safely and responsibly and to understand the risks and stereotypes it may present. Or we keep quiet, and allow what happens online to have an enormous, unchecked and potentially damaging influence on young people’s self-esteem and their ideas about what sex and relationships look like.
“Young people need all the support and guidance they can get to navigate this terrain. We are currently living through a unique moment in history, never experienced before or again, in which a generation of non-digital natives is parenting and educating a generation of digital natives. The gulf in experience and understanding that this presents should not be underestimated. Sharing knowledge and strategies to approach these linked and complex issues has never been more important.”
Cranleigh will host a similar conference for parents on May 8th, booking will open after the Easter break.