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The UK is seeing a rise in self-harm among students. So what can teachers do to tackle this?

Greg Johnson Greg Johnson

NHS figures published by The Guardian show that self-harm among students has increased dramatically in the past 10 years. There has been a steep rise in students under 18 being admitted to hospital for harming themselves.

The report further states that poisoning accounts for 88% of self-harming incidents, with figures rising from 9,741 in 2005-06 to 13,583 in 2015-2016 among girls and from 2,234 to 2,246 among boys.

Furthermore, an article in The Independent highlighted the results of a survey jointly conducted by the Association of School and College Leaders and the National Children’s Bureau. It revealed that nearly 79% of schools reported an upsurge of self-harming and suicidal tendencies among pupils.

In the face of such frightening statistics, how can teachers respond to self-harming incidents in a helpful and empowering manner?

1. Allow students to confide in you

When teachers suspect or identify that a pupil is self-harming, confronting them immediately is not the best way. They may refuse to accept your help or to acknowledge that they have such tendencies. It is better to foster an environment of trust where pupils will naturally come to you to talk about any issues they might be facing.

If students refuse to discuss their issues, the best you can do is let them know that you are there for them and offer them a chance to talk when they feel ready. Students who self-harm are more likely to confide in teachers who show sympathy and understanding and are not judgmental.

2. Informing parents

A student may not like the idea of teachers informing their parents. Though this decision should be respected, there are cases where teachers must involve parents. Such conversations are never easy, as it is very hard to tell parents that their child is harming themselves. By addressing parents directly, in a calm and thoughtful manner, free from accusations or criticism, this difficult situation can be managed in a sensitive way.

3. Create peer support groups

Young people will naturally confide in their peers more than in parents or teachers. The premise of a peer support scheme is that young people are qualitatively different from adults a generation or more apart from them. As teachers and parents, we imagine that we know the world that they live in, but discover that we cannot enter their experience any more than we can appreciate their music or fashion. There are issues and concerns that are common experience for young people, just as their experience of life in school, in the corridors, in the playground may be quite different from how the adults see it.

Peer Support provides an additional, largely informal, layer of help and support in the school. It is also about mental health – fostering the abilities and resilience of all, and preventing students’ coping abilities from being devastated by stresses in their environment. Peer support can also help them take advantage of their strengths and be compassionate toward themselves. Support groups can reverse self-destructive behaviours by identifying students’ weaknesses, capitalising on their strengths and improving their leadership skills.

4. Help them find new coping strategies

Self-harm may be a way for students to cope with emotional distress. However, teachers can help them find or develop alternative mechanisms for coping. Encourage students to respond differently when they feel like hurting themselves – maybe start a journal in which they express their feelings, make them write down their negative thoughts and then tell them to tear that paper up, or listen to calming music.

5. Make referrals

While teachers play an important role in ensuring student wellbeing, self-harming tendencies cannot be tackled by schools alone. Students should, in the first instance, be referred to a school counsellor if you have one. Depending on their assessment, they might then be referred to off-site professionals. This assessment takes into consideration the risk level of physical injury, suicide and the presence of any mental health disorder.

Research has found a direct link between self-harming behaviour and students’ use of the internet. And with an increased dependence on the internet, it is essential to implement cyber safety measures. If you would like to learn more about Peer Support or about cyber safety, get in touch with Securus today.

How to help teens resist the pressure to take drugs

Greg Johnson Greg Johnson

One of the biggest challenges for teens is withstanding peer pressure. Although a powerful force, peer pressure is not necessarily always a negative influence. It teaches teenagers how to fit in, adapt and make a meaningful contribution to their social group. Helping teenagers to distinguish between negative and positive pressures is key to them making the right choices.

So how can you ensure your teen is able to resist negative peer pressure –without alienating their peers? The single greatest concern for parents of teenagers is peer pressure that entices them into trying drugs. One impulsive step could be enough to lead them down the wrong path. But if you empower your teen with a sound values system, this can help give them the courage and conviction to make correct decisions, even if this means standing apart from the crowd.

The good news is that two recent studies found that young people, aged 11-15, have turned their backs on drink, drugs and smoking. The number of children who have tried illegal drugs has decreased by almost a half over the past 10 years. However, another study is quite alarming. It was carried out by the Crime Survey for England and Wales and reported that the number of young people aged 16 -24 that indulge in cocaine and ecstasy has gone up by 230,000 to 2.7 million.

Empower your teen to battle peer pressure

Accept your child

Children who grow up secure in the knowledge they are loved and accepted for who they are rarely submit to peer pressure, as they do not need to seek validation from the external world.

Value and appreciate their talents, and provide them with all the support and guidance they need – this will help them build healthy self-esteem.

Express affection to your child

If you display your love for your child, this strengthens your bond with them. Even though some teenagers might be bashful about displays of affection, it does make a lasting impression on their minds, whether or not they would admit it. It is this unconditional love that becomes their armour, protecting them from the influence of negative peer pressure.

Listen to your child and keep communication channels open

A child’s ability to distinguish between what is right, and what is not, begins with the parents. Investing the time and effort to talk to your teens and let them know they can talk to you about their thoughts and problems, will help them to trust you. Knowing that they have the solid support and emotional backing of their home and family eliminates the craving for superficial approval from peers.

Talk to your teen about the dangers of doing drugs

Teach them to say a firm “no!” Role play the scene with your teenager, and suggest various ways to refuse politely but firmly. At the same time, encourage them to differentiate between the person and the act, so that they do not come across as excessively self-righteous.

Ask your child for their views and encourage them to ask questions. Gauge their opinions on the topic and encourage them to be honest with you. Discuss the consequences of drugs objectively by explaining how it can take a toll on every aspect of their life. Everything that teenagers watch and listen makes an impression on their minds. So, while it is not really possible to constantly monitor what they are accessing on social media, it would be a good idea to be tuned in to their likes and interests. Look out for any unusual changes in behaviour or any unexplained mood swings. Most important of all, get them to talk to you about anything that affects them or they feel strongly about.

Peer pressure can be an overwhelming influence but it can never be stronger than the emotional stability that a loving and nurturing home provides. The role that you as a parent play in providing a secure environment for your teen to thrive and grow in will give them all the strength they need to resist the temptation to give in to peer pressure. Not only at this sensitive phase of their life, but in the future as well.

“Anorexia is a lifestyle, not a disease”. How pro-anorexia sites are impacting body image in teens

Greg Johnson Greg Johnson

“Infinity is so damn sweet
Your mortal earth cannot compete
Starving for the other shore
I will not eat!
Say it loud
& say it now
I’m anorexic
& I’m proud.”

This disturbing poem features on the website ana’s underground grotto. As with several other websites just like it, it dishes out a variety of dangerous information regarding weight loss, tips for hiding an eating disorder from family and friends, and how to ‘purge’-  plus images of models and other skinny body types to endorse the ‘thinspiration’ trend.

Out of the 1.6 million people in the UK who are affected by an eating disorder, around two-thirds have visited such sites.  Data from the health and social care information centre (in 2013) revealed an 8% rise in hospital admissions for eating disorders. This surge has been attributed to Pro-ana websites which are promoting a serious mental illness as a lifestyle choice.

According to Dr. Bryan Lask, medical director for eating disorders at Charity Care UK, social media is a very important part of his patients’ lives. He explains: “Eating disorders are genetically-determined, but the society in which we live – which creates thinness as an ideal – plays a major contributing role,” He adds: “I have one patient who spends many hours a day blogging about her experiences. I have others who spend many more hours reading other people’s blogs. It becomes their lives. It’s an escape from the inner pain and the confrontation of the external world.”

The influence of social media on body image has become an important debate.  With the increase in internet use among teens, it is not surprising that the issue has gained serious significance in recent years.

In one study which examined both pro-recovery sites and pro-eating disorder websites, the researchers found that many teens had a pre-existing condition, and that viewing Pro- ana websites often negatively impacted one’s body image, even if it was not the original intent.

What are pro-anorexia websites?

Before we can begin to examine the impact of the internet or social media on body image or eating disorders, we must fully understand Pro-ana websites and the motivation behind them. As with any mental illness, Anorexia and Bulimia lead to serious psychological disturbances, often accompanied by depression, anxiety and damaged self-esteem. Anyone who suffers from these illnesses is in an extremely vulnerable position, which leaves them more susceptible to outside influences.

The word ‘pro-ana’ meaning pro-anorexia, was created by young women who have anorexia or bulimia, or are in recovery from one or both of the disorders. Eating disorders have been reclaimed through vocabulary, with terms like ana and mia becoming extremely popular ways to describe this serious mental health condition.

Several websites have been built around the notion that anorexia and bulimia are not diseases but rather ‘choices’ and don’t require treatment. While there is some debate about the extent to which these sites do any real harm, most experts agree that such websites can be seriously damaging to young people who are mentally unstable and have a skewed body image.

Most pro-anorexia sites include the following disclaimer on their homepage

This site does not encourage that you develop an eating disorder. This is a site for those who ALREADY have an eating disorder and do not wish to go into recovery.
If you do not already have an eating disorder, better it is that you do not develop one now. You may wish to leave.

What is most disturbing is the empathetic approach taken by these sites. Presumably, this is intended to lure young women who have serious doubts about their weight and appearance, or are already suffering from serious mental and emotional problems. At first glance, the sites appear to be helpful, informative and seek to support girls struggling with eating disorders. Delve a little deeper and you quickly realise that the ultimate objective is to promote an unnatural ‘thinness’ and unhealthy ‘dieting advice’. The websites are flooded with images of women who are dangerously thin, very often celebrities who have either been diagnosed with an eating disorder or photoshopped into looking like they have one.

Body image in popular media

The issue of media influence on appearance and body image has been around since the first TV commercial was shot, or probably even before that, when the first print ad portrayed a woman of ‘perfect appearance’. While this phenomenon is nothing new, it has been catapulted into a much more serious issue with the advent of the technology and the internet- especially via platforms solely dedicated to pictures, images and videos. The ideal body type and the ‘perfect face’ have been largely redefined in the last decade, with the selfie craze at the helm of this revolution.

From perfectly sized models, and flawless celebrities, young people are bombarded with unrealistic notions of beauty and perfection. With the increasing development and use of interactive social media platforms, we are no longer passive consumers of media – there is no escaping the constant trends that relate to body image and appearance.

Case in Point

The thinspiration trend

“If you have time to complain, then you have time to train”.  This is one of the slogans associated with the the ‘thinspiration trend’, a campaign meant to encourage young women to achieve the ideal body type. This is often shared in the form of images and photos of women who possess these ‘ideal’ body types.

The thinspiration trend has become serious enough for Pinterest to start posting a warning regarding eating disorders. When a user types in specific search terms, such as thinspiration, the search results are headed by a banner reading – “Eating disorders are disorders that if left untreated can cause serious health problems or could even be life-threatening. Also, the popular platform Instagram posted a ban on pro-anorexia content earlier this year –unfortunately though, researchers suggest this may have made the problem worse.

For an educator, the task of protecting children and teens from exposure to damaging content online can be extremely challenging, given that they have access on various devices. However, you can monitor your students’ internet activity at school and ensure they are safe from potential harm. Get in touch with us to find out more. Securus software solution is aimed at protecting children and teens, and safeguarding them from online dangers.



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