Switching Off

This week it was my turn to deliver the assemblies at our secondary school. At this moment of time, the theme for an assembly for teenagers very much writes itself, when one takes a cursory glance through the newspapers and reads of the apparent — and to my mind very evident — increase in mental health issues and anxiety amongst young people. Amongst my thoughts on this was my fear that for young people there are now fewer opportunities to switch off from and be un-e-vailable to their ‘friends’.

Since the dawn of time, where groups of people come together there is inevitably discord, disagreement and general argy-bargy. When you consider that in secondary schools you can throw in adolescence, puberty and synaptic pruning, then it is little wonder that there exists — what we educators somewhat euphemistically refer to as — friendship issues. But something is very different for the young people of today as compared to the fallings out we had as youths and that is the propensity for these issues to carry on and develop beyond the school day via social media.

Not heeding my own advice to switch off, I was reminded of the intrusion of social media the other day when I opened an email in the evening. A strap line at the bottom of the text informed me that there is no expectation for me to reply to the email after 5pm. How kind! The damage, however, had already been done. I was now thinking about the content of that email, when I should have been thinking about enjoying my dinner. In addition, I had the extra burden of remembering to reply to the email the next day, it being now after 5pm. This then leads to the bizarre situation where I have to put an entry in my electronic diary to remind myself to check my emails from the previous evening. It’s simply intrusive.

And so it is with school yard disagreements. Where once the natural healing capacity of time meant that having slept on an issue it would invariably resolve itself, they now continue and snowball via Facebook, Snapchat etc. beyond the school gates. What is more, these issues rarely remain between the two participants, since all the world is able to comment on or otherwise give their opinion on the matter. Young people are now far less able to switch off — both physically in terms of their device and mentally — to be alone with their own thoughts and feelings. It is only in this way that the mind is able to compartmentalise an issue and put it into proper perspective. I recently asked a friend what they did to switch off. A response was not readily forthcoming.

E.M. Forster suggested that we should “only connect”, but he would not have foreseen that this would be a 24 / 7 intrusion without an easy capacity to disconnect. This connectedness is indeed important but it needs to be on one’s own terms. Ways to disconnect and switch off will be the subject of my next blog. Answers on a postcard please. Or via Twitter, Facebook……