Back to School – Top tips for supporting young people in the new academic year

18 Sep 2017 Andy Robinson

In this blog, Kat Tremlett – Professionals Online Safety Helpline practitioner, looks at the importance of teachers taking a step back amid the mayhem of the new academic year and thinking about young people’s mental wellbeing. She also offers some top tips from the Professionals Online Safety Helpline.

Recent research shows that 91% of young people aged 16-24 use social networks and that the use of these services is associated with increased rates of anxiety (#statusofmind). I’d hazard a guess that six weeks off = a LOT of time spent online. I for one know how easy it is to search for something obscure and fall into a black hole of weird and wonderful content. Before you know it half the day’s gone by and nothing’s been done!

The point is, as an adult I have learnt how to self-regulate (well some of the time) and know when enough is enough for me. Young people are still working this out and won’t necessarily be able to control their impulsive nature to keep watching.

Of course there are positive effects of social media too, such as users reporting being more emotionally supported through their contacts online (another finding of #statusofmind), But it’s worth taking a moment to step back from the mayhem that is the beginning of a new school year and think about your pupils’ mental wellbeing.

Here are some top tips if something’s concerning you:

Have a conversation

Time moves on but talking about behaviour is still the best way to address any worries you may have. Talk with young people about your concerns and involve them in the outcome of any discussions. Where possible, respect what they want to happen and let them know you want to help.

Current affairs

The local media can be great for spur of the moment debates; perhaps it’s a news story about grooming or a song in the charts with lyrics around misogyny.

Whatever the topic, open up discussions with young people about current affairs; give them a safe space to test their ideals and encourage them to think critically.

Trust your gut

If you have concerns, act now and inform your safeguarding lead. There is a time and place for subtlety and reasoning, but when it comes to young people’s safety, this is not it.

Focus on the behaviour, not the technology

Older generations often shy away from talking about online behaviour for fear of exposing their lack of knowledge about different platforms. The key thing is the life experience adults have, which is far more valuable than any technological solution.

Focusing on behaviour allows you, as an adult, to draw from your experience to provide the support a young person may need.

As SWGfL’s Online Safety Director, Ken Corish, wrote in this blog:

“Our children are not born experts in online life. They may have an affinity for technology but they are still children with all of the inexperience and naivety that brings. It is our job to support those things, no matter in which aspect of their life they occur.”

Do some research

There are no expectations on adults to know the ins and outs of every game, app or website in order to protect young people. But by learning the basics about an app, you at least give yourself a better understanding of the potential risks. You may find our social media guides helpful.

Supervise them

Imagine this – you want to play a DVD to your year 9s that’s rated 15. What would be the next steps to take? Would you roll out the DVD player and leave the class to it? Probably not.

More likely that you would have checked with the parents of the children that they were OK with this and, also have checked the DVD to make sure there weren’t any scenes that would be too disturbing for the audience. Finally you’d supervise the viewing so that if any young person did find something a bit overwhelming, you’d be on hand to defuse the situation.

Social media is much the same. Young people need supervision and it’s everyone’s responsibility to be aware of what young people are doing online.

Ask for help

If you know that a young person is struggling online but don’t know what to do, contact the Professionals Online Safety Helpline for further advice and support. Open from 10am – 4pm Monday – Friday, practitioners will help professionals unpick and resolve issues wherever possible:

Phone 0344 381 4772

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