The mental health of young people is a growing cause for concern − that much is clear from conversations I have had with teachers across the UK.
And often, technology is the first thing that people blame.
It seems to be accepted that children are spending too long in front of screens and not enough time outside scraping their knees and building tree houses. I wouldn’t argue with this; how could I when adults, including me, are just as guilty of being glued to their screens as children are?
Thanks to the mobile devices in our lives, we’ve never been so connected and yet so alone at the same time. This potential isolation and lack of real connection with others can be harmful in the long term. It has been proven that being outside in nature works wonders for our mood. So it stands to reason that having too much time inside with nothing but a screen for company would have the opposite effect. This is the “bad” side of technology. Parents play a key role in keeping an eye on how much time children are spending on their devices.
Yet there is an even more serious link between technology and mental health that we need to consider. The ugly threat of online bullying means that pupils can’t always escape the bullies at the end of the school day. Social media has a big role to play here, so we must continue to teach children how to use it positively.
But, as well as the bad and the ugly, technology also has a good side when it comes to mental health.
I know from my own experience that tech can be used to take care of our mental wellbeing. There are apps to guide you through meditation or which will send you notifications reminding you to take a moment out of your busy day to be mindful. The Go Noodle website hosts calming meditation videos for young children to follow, as well as videos for dance and exercise. The Year 5 kids at my school who have been running a lunchtime Go Noodle club love to end their sessions with one of these calming videos.
There are also start-up companies like Mind Moose, which aim to use ed tech to teach children how to take care of their mental wellbeing through a dedicated platform and self-directed sessions.
Even social media has its upsides. For example, young people who feel isolated can find online groups made up of other young people experiencing similar struggles; this connection can mean everything to them. Beyond this, there are a ton of apps that encourage young people to get moving and go outside – including the controversial Pokémon Go.
Ultimately, technology has its good, bad and ugly sides, just like anything else. The mental health issues that we witness in our schools are down to many factors, but we can’t blame the problem on technology alone.