On-screen learning a growing anxiety for image-conscious pupils, warns head

With remote learning set to continue, Lara Péchard says that reducing screen time and allowing children to voice their concerns is key to maintaining good mental health

On-screen learning is having an increasingly detrimental effect on students’ self-image, according to the head of an independent Hertfordshire school.

Lara Péchard, head of St Margaret’s School, claims that being constantly on-camera can lead to pupils feeling anxious about everything from personal appearance to comparing their home to their peers’.

“Most children are not keen on seeing themselves reflected back via Zoom all day long,” she said. “This is made worse for those teenagers who lack confidence or who are more self-conscious about how they are viewed by their peers, which is most of them. It can be hard for young people to manage those feelings and focus on their work.

“Many children also don’t want cameras on in their personal spaces while they are exercising. We know that, nationally, mental health issues will rise during this time and we are seeing more concerns around anxiety, and children lacking their own sense of purpose and motivation. Feeling like everyone is watching your every move certainly doesn’t make things easier.”

Parents, said Péchard, have a key role to play in alleviating their children’s concerns.

“As parents we need to look at what would help them. Can changes be made to their background setting? What clothes would they feel most comfortable wearing and would help them to feel more relaxed? Talking through the changes can make a difference, even if it feels like a courageous conversation to start with.”

It might mean that lessons are broken down into different segments, with discussions at the start and end, and cameras switched off more often – Lara Péchard, St Margaret’s School

With remote learning set to extend into springtime at least, St Margaret’s is among the schools modifying its lessons to help reduce screen time.

“Schools must continue to adapt and reinvent the wheel around remote learning,” added Péchard. “What worked last year won’t necessarily work now.

“It might mean that lessons are broken down into different segments, with discussions at the start and end, and cameras switched off more often.

“We all are having to adapt through this pandemic. Parents are having to merge their work and life more than before. The juggling act has got much harder. Schools can do so much, and most are working hard to fill the gaps that families are struggling with.

“We are all having to make time for our children in a way that upsets our normal working routine, and this is difficult, but it is crucial that children don’t feel this compromise too much.”

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