GUEST COLUMN: Online life is not real, by Lee Floyd, head teacher at Stubbin Wood School


For anybody with a vested interest in the next generation’s chances of succeeding in the world of work, a recent report made concerning reading.

Young people, it said, showed good understanding of social intelligence – the ability to get on with others – but there were concerns about their ability to mix with people from different backgrounds because being on social media meant that they spent less time meeting real people in the real world.

This is just one effect of our technology-rich world and in our sector, while it has been a boom in many ways, it is also wreaking havoc in others.

I admit that, as a former palaeontologist, I have gone from studying dinosaurs to becoming one. I do not tweet or follow Facebook – I cannot understand the fascination, but I do understand how social media is part of all young people’s lives.

Sadly, our students are more likely than anyone else to get their fingers burned online. For example, because they take comments at face value, they cannot work out when they are being “trolled” by people saying things purely to get a reaction.

They struggle to regulate their emotions or understand what is appropriate to say, so online disputes can flare up very quickly – and can spill out into real life.

Our students are far more vulnerable to experiencing online bullying and sexual abuse than mainstream students and, while they are as likely to view violent or sexual material online, they are less emotionally and psychologically capable of dealing with it appropriately.

We also have issues with children who are addicted to game play, while students on the autistic spectrum are prone to violent outbursts when asked to turn off their machines.

Another big concern is the way in which technology like phones and iPads are being presented to young people to amuse them and act as a pacifier, stopping them from interacting with people around them and learning communication skills.

I can’t begin to offer a solution to these worries – or my own online safety, identity security, and financial protection. We exist in a world increasingly reliant upon technology – but is it growing faster than we can manage?