Self-harm fears over mobile use in schools

Alan McKenzie says says modern technology makes behaviour difficult to police in schools
Alan McKenzie says says modern technology makes behaviour difficult to police in schools
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TEACHERS have demanded new laws to restrict pupils’ use of mobile phones in classrooms after fears emerged over children self-harming.

Calls have been made for a “code of conduct” after one alarmed parent said first and second-year pupils – some as young as 12 – at Linlithgow Academy were cutting themselves with blades and starving themselves, before using phones to post pictures online.

She said youngsters were involved in competitions to see how far they would go as part of the “fashionable” trend.

The Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association (SSTA) said the time had come for restrictions on the use of mobiles in schools, while one MSP has vowed to raise the matter at the Scottish Parliament.

Alan McKenzie, acting general secretary of the SSTA, said: “It is not surprising that young people are involved in this. Copycat behaviour amongst young teenagers is not new, but when it is linked to photo-sharing and YouTube, the potential for it to go viral is unlimited.

“Teachers are always vigilant, but the existence and tolerance of state-of-the-art mobile technology makes policing this behaviour impossible. “We find ourselves once again expressing concern about young people and mobile telephones, but the message must get out there. We need more control and restriction of this technology in schools before a tragedy happens.”

Alison Johnstone, Green MSP for the Lothians, wants a national forum set up to debate the issue and plans to open talks at the next meeting of the Cross-Party Group on Children and Young People in the Scottish Parliament, of which she is vice-convener.

She said: “We need to look at all forms of social media, not just mobile phone technology. This is very concerning behaviour that’s being shared among a vast number of young people.

“Clearly a child does not need a phone in school all day. Perhaps there could be a system where they have access to a phone when they need it. I’m sure we could come up with a sensible position, whether that’s time restrictions or saying to pupils ‘this is where you leave your mobile phones and pick them up at the end of the day’.”

The anonymous parent who revealed the trend said her daughter had told of pupils at Linlithgow Academy who were hurting themselves before uploading images of the results.

She said: “My child isn’t doing what many of her friends are – self-harming and starving themselves – but she is making herself ill about it.

“I’ve had to take her phone off her as she gets texts from friends telling her what they’re doing to themselves, saying what they’ve used and where they’ve been cutting.

“She shouldn’t have to worry about her friends if they don’t turn up at school, and hope they haven’t gone too far.”

It is understood that online photo-sharing sites are being used to display the blades being used, youngsters cutting themselves and support for those taking part.

A former pupil of Linlithgow Academy, who didn’t want to be named, said: “This [self-harming] has been going on for years, perhaps without the images being posted online, but certainly there were some issues that I was aware of while I was a pupil there.

“Most of my friends did it when I was there. It wasn’t for attention, or for fashion. There are always reasons behind it – bullying, too much pressure at school, home problems.”

A West Lothian Council spokesman: “Help is available for pupils and families to try and address the underlying issues that lead to self-harming.”