As we approach Safer Internet Week, families should take time to switch off their devices and enjoy a meal around the kitchen table says Helen Keevil, DHP and DSL of Abingdon School.

When was the last time you and your family spent quality time eating a meal together with all devices switched off? Sadly, I suspect that for the majority of us, it hasn’t happened in a while…

That’s because, in this digital age of ours, the primary way to communicate is via technology and we are bombarded by it – websites, emails, apps and social media. It doesn’t matter whether we are arranging to meet friends or doing the weekly shop – almost everything we do, we do using these technologies. This makes it incredibly easy to get lost in the virtual world and ever more challenging to focus on genuine human connections.

It also means that the message we are sending to our children is that communicating via technology is more valuable than personal interaction. The reality is that the online world is where people now spend their time and there are both positive and negative elements to it. Young people I work with talk about all the help they’ve found from others online and that often this has been far more supportive than specialist services in the community. Equally, though, some young people are emotionally unprepared for what they can view and this, together with being at an impressionable age means that they are only one small click away from a war zone of inappropriate content and images.

To strike the right balance between recognising the positive aspects of technology whilst also appreciating the value of personal interaction and the beauty of the world around us, individuals need to understand that stepping away from a screen doesn’t mean that technology is being abandoned! Rather that, by being constantly plugged in, we are missing out on the richness of life and the laughter, conversations and experiences that shape us. It is this point which is particularly pivotal for parents.

In his book ‘Working with Boys’ in which author Andrew Hampton discusses the different forms of masculinity, he asserts that the relational culture of boys cannot be significantly changed once it has become established in Year 8 and above. Boys aged between 9 and 12 need clear boundaries, understanding the consequences of their actions if they have made poor decisions. This cannot be properly accomplished without open dialogue and genuine human connections – either at home or at school.

Throughout the Abingdon Foundation, we are heavily invested in the quality of our PSHCE programme delivery. Pupils are taught the importance of self-regulation, staying safe online and are actively encouraged to enter into a dialogue if they feel something is unfair or raise anything they feel worried about. Our older students take on ambassadorial roles, mentoring and supporting our young people so they can be confident in expressing their own voices whilst embracing being part of a community which is kind and inclusive.
Connecting with others in this way involves mindfulness, quieting our minds to focus on being fully engaged in the present and, yes you’ve guessed it, turning off our mobile devices!

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