Selfie-obsessed? No, our pupils’ focus is on others

15th July 2016 at 00:00

How many selfies do you think our pupils will take over the summer? Quite a few, I imagine, if reports are true that young people are more self-absorbed than ever before, and that selfishness and narcissism are rife. Some call it “selfie syndrome”, with teenagers, in particular, supposedly more interested in themselves than in others.

Fortunately, this isn’t an accurate picture of young people. Take the group of pupils who will spend part of their summer break devising ways to raise money to improve school toilets in poorer parts of Africa. A lack of safe toilets, their blog tells us, is one reason why so many girls choose not to attend school in highly impoverished parts of the world.

Then there is the group of teenagers who decided to stomp up and down hills with heavy packs to raise money for young carers, who must give up much of their childhoods to look after disabled family members.

Supposedly mollycoddled and overprotected, many young people are undertaking adventurous foreign trips to remote and interesting places to work on school construction and development projects that make a real difference.

More than a few teachers set a fine example, too, by undertaking useful charity work, including overseas learning and teaching projects. It is work that makes a real difference to the lives of others – and also boosts their stock of knowledge and life experiences.

The idea that empathy is dead and narcissism prevails is quite wrong, then. Certainly, social media has created new concerns about what young people do and what they tell the world they are doing. Yes, there is a problem of overattachment to phones and tablets, but young people are also using social media for the greater good.

Online group conversations enable young people to remain in touch during the summer to plan and undertake useful voluntary work. A teacher who introduced an endof-term project on fair trade was surprised – and delighted – when groups of her pupils got together to discuss how to raise enough funds over the summer to buy 100 goats for farmers in poor parts of the world; chat groups were set up to enable pupils to share ideas and learn from the experience.

Another summer project I came across involves “100 ways to help other people”. Pupils contribute ideas to a blog, with the conversation initiated by their teacher. Some take on ideas like collecting unwanted clothes and books from within their neighbourhoods, to be donated to charity shops.

One idea that really resonates, given recent international events, is the collection of unwanted shoes for refugees from war zones.

Generation Selfie? I don’t think so.

John Greenlees is a secondary teacher in Scotland

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