Communicating with our Children

I was recently asked to comment during a meeting with potential 11+ candidates and their parents, upon the mounting concern of late about the deteriorating mental health of an increasing number of children and whether or not I had noticed any trends linking this deterioration to the pressures of 11+ tuition, and, if so, was I able to suggest any reasons for this increase.

Firstly, I believe our education system, with or without  11+ tuition, is very intense and the introduction of robust 11+ tuition into the Year 4 curriculums, along with three extra, early morning classes, will only add to the strain. However, in my view there is one much larger culprit, existing for  both parents and children and that is the Social Media frenzy that has taken a firm grip on our society, parent body and our habits.

This medium of communication has brought about a much heightened sensitivity towards body image, personal achievements, scurrilous and vitriolic gossip, become an addictive hobby and can be very damaging to self-esteem; all contrary to its original purpose which was to inform and assist communication. Add to this the ease of access Apps, such as Snapchat and WhatsApp, leading to cyberbullying, ‘relational aggression’, yet more scurrilous gossip and we have a very worrying scene.

Children (and parents!) these days never get a break! Schools have the golden opportunity to offer a social media free zone and allow our children to have a calm, healthy environment in which to relax, be themselves, chat face to face with friends, and take part in activities (which are great distractors) and focus on their aspirations for the future. I do not envy the position of our parents who are also trying to enforce such a zone at home – but I urge you all to make a concerted effort to do so.

Perhaps a starting point would be to start acting as suitable role-models for our children with our mobile use. In the spring term alone, more than ten parents approached me directly complaining about their class WhatsApp group – explaining that they had been forced to either delete the App or turn off their mobile phones as the message notifications and conversations were still arriving beyond midnight! How can this be an acceptable use of a mobile device?

In conclusion therefore, I ask you all to be sensible and consider the wider implications of typing into the early hours of the morning – especially when we are trying to encourage our children to also limit the amount of time spent communicating virtually. Food for thought, I am sure… for all of us to consider.

Additionally, here at Oakfields we also feel strongly that children should understand the importance of a life-long investment in their health and well-being. Sensible nutrition, regular exercise, a good work life balance and mental wellness are becoming increasingly more important than exam results. Physical activity is a winner all round giving great health benefits alongside social inclusion, friendship building, a sense of belonging and a lot of fun. That is why Oakfields places so much emphasis on a wide ranging extra-curricular provision to encourage participation and to educate children on these many benefits. Sowing the seeds at an early age and ensuring that every experience is truly enjoyable – at all levels – is an absolutely key factor.

An awe and wonder of nature is also a chief consideration of education at Oakfields. We work and study within eight glorious acres of woodland. We want both children and parents to see the beauty around them and to be constantly charmed by the view. With all this in mind we have recently embarked upon enrolment as an official Forrest School. Great plans are now afoot for September 2017 – to ensure that we are a Forrest School not just in name but in practice too.

Laura Ciftci