"Digital Detox" is a phrase that we hear more and more, instantly conjuring up loss of control, fear of addiction and imposed periods of "cold turkey". As parents, many of us are still beginners in this brave new digital world and rather than empowering our youth to blaze trails into the modern age, our suspicion of Snapchat and general fear of the unknown lead us to restrict or even reject these influences as we see them encroach further into our children's lives.
It's easy to see why the accessibility of technology can be a cause for concern. Bullies, predators and other nasties do exist in the cyber world, just as they do in the natural one. But while some try to combat the influence of social media and the demon "screen time" on pupils (banning phones and switching off Wi-Fi are two solutions that have been tried), at Putney High School GDST https://www.gdst.net/ we have adopted a more 21st Century approach. We actively embrace technology as a force for good, incorporating technology in many aspects of their learning and wellbeing.
It's not just about gadgets and gizmos; digital is fast becoming the language of the age and one in which we must all be literate. All girls at Putney High School learn to code and use Swift playgrounds, an incredibly powerful app which brings their ideas to life. It's the same platform which was used to create applications like Duolingo and AirBnB. In years 10 and 11, students gain experience with professional programming language C# and the whole school gets involved in a "tech start-up" day. High-tech careers have for a long time tended to be male dominated, at Putney High we are aiming to change that.
What of the virtual world? No longer restricted to the realms of entertainment, the applications of VR are enormous, and schools can incorporate exciting technology into their lessons. Learning by doing, is after all, one of the most effective and neglected methods of learning. Just as an airline pilot will train in a simulator before being let loose with a plane full of passengers, VR allows access to global resources and immersive learning experiences with which to experiment, tackle problems, and take risks, in a virtual environment, free from fear. What a wonderful way to help students develop into curious, resilient and resourceful adults.
A recent article in the Telegraph offered "survival tips for parents on the technology battlefield" http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/family/screens-teens-survival-tips-parents-technology-battlefield/. The "battlefield" metaphor is a telling one. As parents we are right to worry about the amount of screen time we allow our children and the teenage years can be fraught with anxiety without the additional pressures of social media, but should blame be laid so squarely at the digital door?
The need to connect in social groups has existed since humans first walked the earth. Most of us want to be liked and to form friendships, and psychologists agree that this kind affirmation is important for our mental health. Social media is just one of many channels through which we all do this and as adults, we must set a good example and equip young people with the information and skills to use technology responsibly. I believe that by teaching good practice and embedding key IT skills in the classroom, we can embrace technology as our friend here.
At Putney, the wellbeing of our students is at the heart of everything we do that's why we are adopting a positive approach. As part of the Girls' Day School Trust, we are working with experts in psychological health, the Positive Group, to spearhead the use of an app-based digital toolkit that helps teachers and pupils to monitor and even retrain their emotions, developing positive habits of mind, improved social Wi-Fi and a shared language with which to better communicate both in the classroom, and also the wider world.
When applied in an intelligent way, technology really can be a force for good, improving levels of academic attainment and helping us all to ride the peaks and troughs of everyday life with greater control.
So let's all engage with the app generation. The online realm is a challenging one but we must equip young people with the skills to explore it with confidence. It is the responsibility of parents and teachers to cast aside their suspicion, and to actively support children as they navigate these uncharted waters, for their own happy futures, and our own.