The Telegraph, 03.10.15, leading independent schools are increasing the numbers of psychologists to help teenagers cope with the pressures of appearing popular on social media. HMC's new Chairman Chris King, headmaster of Leicester Grammar School speaks ahead of the 2015 HMC Annual Conference and HMC Heads Bernard Trafford, headmaster of leading independent RGS Newcastle and Richard Russell headmaster of Colfe's School are quoted.
There has been a rapid expansion in the numbers of counsellors employed by schools to meet the mental health needs of teenagers struggling to deal with the “modern world”, said Chris King, the new chairman of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC) of schools.
The pressure to accumulate friends and positive comments on social media – alongside the need to perform well in exams – is leading to significant issues for some young people, Mr King said. Almost half of 260 schools in the HMC have recruited more counsellors over the past five years, he added.
“Our schools have very significantly increased the funding for professionals, councillors and listeners to come into the schools to support the good work that their pastoral structure has done for many years,” he said.
“There is a belief that you need targeted professional assistance. If it’s not available in sufficient quantities with outside agencies, one can’t just leave it to pass by.
“The typical individual who is presenting himself at the moment is a child who is anxious that they appear interesting and popular in social media, anxious to achieve at a high level in exams and concerned about the world that they are going to enter where there appears to be huge social and economic problems. For individuals this can overwhelm them.
Mr King’s comments come ahead of the annual meeting of the HMC this week, where the issue of wellbeing and mental health will be a focus. He added: “There is no crisis in our schools but there are individuals who have problems and we need to respond to those problems.
“Our schools are spending a great deal more money training staff. We are moving from a position where we have pastoral leaders, staff that were involved with pastoral side in our schools who were well meaning and good intentioned to staff who are properly trained.”
Richard Russell, headmaster of Colfes School in West London, has started a programme entitled Tougher Minds aimed at helping teenagers achieve daily goals to boost their self-esteem.
“It has never been more difficult to be a teenager,” he said. “You are spending a lot of your time in a virtual goldfish bowl and all schools are under pressure to develop coping strategies.”
Bernard Trafford, headmaster of Newcastle Royal Grammar School, has recently hired a full-time councillor to tackle mental health issues among his pupils.
In his view, schools have become better at raising awareness of mental health issues but pupils are also speaking out about it more.
He said: “Schools are getting real about mental health. This is a big national concern. There are high levels of anxiety among young people who feel pressured to be beautiful and this is only amplified through social media.
“The conversations go on after school through technology and even intelligent pupils put themselves in comprising positions within their peer group. Home used to be safe but now it is invaded electronically.”
Julie Lynn Evans, a child and adolescent psychotherapist, and author of the book What About the Children, said that the widespread use of smart phones was exacerbating problems for vulnerable teenagers.
“Children have no time to think about and process what is happening, they are always on to the next thing. They need time to learn how to manage their emotions, both good and bad” she said.
“Photos on social media encourage them to think that the grass is always greener for other people. They are comparing their life with images that lack reality.”
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