Saint Martin’s, like schools everywhere, has gone into a special phase which happens at this time every year. As you walk through the corridors of Senior School, silence now reigns supreme as our eldest girls have gone off on study leave, ready for the serious business of external exams.
Last Friday was an emotional day for the Upper Sixth as it was their last formal day in school. Some members of the year group have been part of the Saint Martin’s community since the age of three. Girls in Junior School joined Senior School girls and parents of Upper Sixth girls to watch the Leavers’ Assembly. The girls shared their fondest memories of Saint Martin’s and aspirations for the future. Mrs Speirs paid tribute to the Class of 2017. Her reading of the poem “Define Yourself” ensured that by the end of the assembly there was not a dry eye amongst the girls.
The examination period is a stressful time for all students but in particular for those whose future will depend on the results. Forty or fifty years ago – long before the internet, before social media, before “mindfulness” became a fashionable buzzword – students feeling the pressure of exams were given the following piece of advice: “If you want to do well … revise well, relax well, eat well and sleep well”. Getting a good night’s sleep is crucial. Research has shown being well rested means pupils’ resilience will increase and they will be better prepared to face the difficulties of modern life and the challenges of growing into responsible adults.
In addition to the pressure of achieving excellent examination results, young people nowadays face more challenges than any other previous generation. Hardly a week goes by without the press reporting on mental health issues amongst young people. Studies show that mental health problems affect about 1 in 10 children and young people. They include depression, anxiety and conduct disorder, and are often a direct response to what is happening in their lives. We know that despite adolescence being the healthiest time of life physically, it is the time in life when young people are most likely to develop a mental health problem. Rates of anxiety and depression in young people have increased by 70% over the last 20 years. There is general consensus that unchecked over-consumption of any substance, including digital media, can be a cause. Social media can be compared to a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” as it is allowed into young peoples’ bedrooms, and in many cases unregulated, with 24/7 access.
Social media use is booming: 91% of 13 – 24 year-olds in the UK use the internet and other social networking sites regularly. Although social media can connect people from all over the world and provide a strong sense of community, recent studies have already suggested associations between social media use and a rise in teen mental health problems. According to a survey reported on BBC News, “Instagram” is rated as the worst social media platform when it comes to its impact on young people’s mental health. The survey asked 1,479 young people aged 13 – 24 to score popular social media apps and comment on their impact on issues such as anxiety, depression, loneliness, bullying, body image and FOMO (fear of missing out). The survey fed into a larger report looking more generally at the impact of social media on people in this age group, the so-called “digital natives”, who have never lived in a world without the internet
Despite many headlines flagging the negative effects, the report published by the Royal Society for Public Health also explored the potential positive benefits of social media for teenagers, such as improved sense of community and self-identity, with “YouTube” found to have the most positive impact on young people. Acting on this information, the report calls for measures to help protect individuals when using social media platforms. Their recommendations revolve around increased education on cyber safety and providing more help to protect the mental wellbeing of young people.
The recommendations include the teaching of safe use of social media in schools, covering topics on cyber bullying, social media addiction and other potentially harmful effects on mental wellbeing. The curriculum should also include information on where young people can seek help. At Saint Martin’s I am pleased to report that we cover a range of aspects of e-safety to all of our Key Stages in assemblies, form time and PSHCEE lessons. Our E-safety Committee meets regularly to discuss latest trends, good practice and strategies to keep the girls safe and up to date. We work hard to ensure our girls’ happiness, well being and mental health, both online and offline.
Digital devices are fantastic; enabling creativity, efficiency, access to online knowledge, collaborative working and much more, and social media can be a wonderful communication tool when used correctly and in moderation. As our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the victims of the suicide bombing in Manchester on Monday evening, it was heartening to see how Mancunians and people around the world joined together in an online show of unity – #PrayforManchester #WeStandTogether
As we approach the end of a busy half term, I wish you all a restful and peaceful holiday.