We’re all familiar with the pressures on teens that are exacerbated in this age of social media.
A survey by Digital Awareness revealed that 63 per cent of pupils said they would not care if the technology did not exist and that 71 per cent said they had taken temporary digital detoxes to escape social media.
These findings sparked a mini-rebellion at Wimbledon High School GDST, which began with the girls in our brilliant feminist club Women of Wimbledon – and has now gone school-wide: #JOMO.
Girls, in particular, are vulnerable to the negative impact social media can have on their self-esteem. Many feel they cannot live up to the idealised self which is created by those around them online. Psychologists call this phenomenon "compare and despair": to look at others and find yourself wanting.
I told our students in assembly that when I was 14, I used to do just that – and it was bad enough – but for young people now, I could see how such comparisons could be the cause of relentless agonising and despair: “The person who constantly posts how amazing their boyfriend or girlfriend is while you’re still waiting for someone to want to kiss you, the group of friends who are always posting amazing shots of what an incredible time they have together, or in my case, the airbrushed mum with her perfect family who seems effortlessly to glide from being an amazing baker to yoga at the gym to running a multi-million pound company, all of this in Gucci outfits with incredible hair. Yick. It’s really hard – well-nigh impossible – not to let that get to you after a while.”
But then I added: “Remember this: no one posts the photo of them arguing with their boyfriend, or cleaning the loo, or crying at a party, or sitting alone in their room wondering why everyone else seems to have a social life. No one does that.
“Stop beating yourself up about who and what you are, compared to your perception of who and what others are. Stop apologising, to yourself, to others, internally or otherwise, for not being good enough.”
In school, we use the mantra:
You do not have to be everything, and everywhere, and every woman.
Be you. You are enough.
And that’s where JOMO comes in. We teach pupils to embrace the #JOMO life: the Joy of Missing Out, removing the Fear from FOMO and replacing it with something much more positive. We tell them this:
"Choose, just from time to time, to actively miss out. Think: I’m going to have a week off WhatsApp to see how not being bombarded with messages makes me feel. Think: I’m not going to worry about not being invited to the party that everyone else seems to be invited to and seems to be having such an amazing time at – if the party’s so amazing, how come they have time 40 minutes in to post 400 pictures? I am going to enjoy my time to myself – the JOMO for every moment of this evening because I am doing what I love doing. For me. Because I am enough."
So the challenge to our pupils was simple: during the weeks and months, to take some JOMO time.
I asked them to send me a line or two about how it felt, or what they did, or any differences it’s making: “If you want to send me a pic of you in your PJs in front of the telly, or reading at home, or having a coffee with a close friend or member of your family, please do. We’ll build together a cache of evidence that switching off, literally and metaphorically, really can bring the joy back into our lives.”
And many of them did, citing the old-school movie night they had with friends where they turned their phones off and just enjoyed being with each other, or the tales of joy from the World Challenge girls who had a fortnight without Wifi on their expedition and didn’t miss it once – quite the opposite – and then, of course, there are the girls who have been sending me pictures of themselves cleaning the loo…
Fionnuala Kennedy is the deputy head (pastoral) at Wimbledon High School GDST.