Head's Blog - Mrs Dangerfield ponders Christmas lists and why, in a society where teenagers relentlessly seek the approval of others, watches and alarm clocks should be stocking staples.
Last month, on board a plane, I was stretching my legs as advised by the cabin crew, when I came across a group of teenage girls seated further down the aisle. As a keen observer of teen behaviours, the first thing I noticed was that each of them was glued to their phone. As I passed by, I saw that what they were doing was editing selfies; using a beauty app to change - and presumably in their opinion improve - their faces. I stood for some time at the rear of the cabin, watching this behaviour, all the while desperately sad that they felt the need to adjust their looks before uploading photos to social media, in order to compare favourably with the next best thing in the charts or even the person sitting beside them.
As I continued to ponder this relentless compulsion to seek the approval of others through social media, I thought of Westonbirt. It would be easy to allow ourselves to believe that the environment and culture here buffers students from all the pressures of the online world. While this may be true in some part, we do belong to a world in which having a phone physically connected to us for most of the day is more of a reality than perhaps we realise.
I began to wonder how many of the children I was looking at owned a watch. How many parents these days buy their children a watch as a matter of course? How many insist they wear them? The ability to read a clock face, once a significant milestone in a child’s learning, is increasingly irrelevant, when a glance down at the phone already lodged in their hand will give them that information digitally.
Many parents don’t allow their children to have phones in their bedrooms, but how many have bought their child an alarm clock? If we adults default to the alarms on our phones, why wouldn’t our children? Until we, ostensibly the older and wiser ones, take responsibility for ensuring our children are walking about with watches on their wrists and alarm clocks by the bed, we are encouraging a generation to always keep a phone within easy reach. And if that phone is always there, then so too is social media, and our children just a finger tip away from all the pressures it represents.
And so, as you think about Christmas lists for your teenagers, consider what is really important and, if we want to manage a small change, put a watch and an alarm clock at the top to allow the opportunity for phone-free time. Add a book and encourage the absorption in text instead of texting. Tap them into the thoughts and brilliance of countless writers past and present, and remind them that you don’t need a screen to be fascinated, amused, challenged or delighted. A book, the original mobile entertainment system, will do all this, and won’t care what your hair looks like today.