In the age of social media, dangers that would once have lurked outside the school gates have seeped inside. The average pupil aged between eight and eighteen, now spends a third of their life on new media; smartphones, tablets and so on. Little wonder that new PHSE classes, rolled out in many secondary schools in recent months, are focusing on helping teenagers cope in the digital world.
Because, while parents may fret about the threats posed by malicious adults online, the actions of children themselves can be harmful – from thoughtless comments to joining in with cyber-bullying and sending sexualised images of themselves (for which they can, in theory, be charged with making an indecent image of a child).
Heathfield School, a £35,000-a-year boarding school in Ascot, Berkshire, is using stories of internet casualties to demonstrate this to its 200 girls, aged 11 to 18. Earlier this month, it flew former Disney and Nickelodeon actress Nicole Crowther to the UK, from Florida, to tell her story.
“We wanted to show the repercussions of social media; what a careless, non-thinking act can do,” says Marina Gardiner Legge, Heathfield headteacher. “It’s so easy as educators and parents to say ‘you shouldn’t do this, you shouldn’t do that’, but the greatest lesson of all is experience.”