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Children’s Mental Health Week and Online Safety

I attended a fantastic conference yesterday, where the daughter of well-known educationalist, Sir Ken Robinson, who sadly passed away in 2020, presented a keynote address entitled Imagine If… .

She builds on a lot of her late father’s legacy, and is incredibly committed to nurturing the unique creativity of young people. 

In her talk, she spoke very candidly about some of the challenges being experienced by our children’s generation (Gen Z and Gen Alpha), and they are significant. Some key points that emerged from her talk about Generation Alpha (those born after 2013) were as follows. 

They are the first generation to live entirely in the 21st century, and are confronted with life on a very over-populated planet, where opportunities are now being competed for internationally, instead of regionally, or even nationally. And it’s not only opportunities they are competing for… They will literally be competing for resources and for space. Each child will need to develop their own unique set of skills to compete on this ever-shrinking planet. Never before has it been as important as it is now, to be you. Unique. A one in 550,343,279,001 miracle (an actual figure). 

Generation Alpha is also a generation that has never lived in a world without unlimited access to the Internet and social media. They will have multiple online profiles, sophisticated avatars, and live in virtual worlds where they will present idealised versions of themselves, that may often blur their own sense of who they really are. They will have many ‘friends’ online, shop online, visit virtual cinemas online, with other people, who are all online. They may buy new ‘skins’ for themselves if they don’t like the skin they’re in, and they may not identify as human at all in this online ‘reality’. The scary thing is that research suggests that Generation Alpha is already spending 8 hours each day on social media on average. 

Tied in with all of this, Generations Z and Alpha are already presenting with more mental health challenges at a younger age than any generation before them. According to the American Psychological Association, only 45% of Gen Zers report that their mental health is very good or excellent. They report intense feelings of isolation, uncertainty, and shame, much of it attributed to their engagement with online standards of what it means to be beautiful, successful and popular. 

It is unsurprising then that this year’s Children’s Mental Health Week is focusing on what it means to be connected. Not in the online, or virtual sense of the word, but in an authentic, flesh-and-blood reality. As a school, we shall engage with this topic during tutor times, and speak about what it means to feel connected in a meaningful way. We shall also focus on acts of kindness as an expression of what it means to be connected to one another.  

Coupled with this, Monday’s assembly will address the issue of online safety, as Tuesday is Safer Internet Day. The Internet and the use of social media has many positive outcomes, but our boys do need to develop a growing awareness of some of the pitfalls, and disadvantages of spending too much time online. Our next Wellbeing Matters Live session in March is aimed at developing our awareness of some of the challenges that our boys face when exploring the Internet, gaming, and making use of various social media applications.  

There are a number of interesting resources online. It may be useful to peruse these if you would like to learn more about children’s mental health and online safety. I have included links below for your interest. 

Craig Cuyler
Assistant Deputy Head/Director of Wellbeing
Head of PSHEe/Deputy DSL/ Assistant Housemaster

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