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PSHE at St Benedict's: supporting self- esteem and postive relationships

How can we help children to form positive healthy relationships, rooted in respect for themselves and for others? St Benedict’s Headmaster, Andrew Johnson, talks to the Head of PSHE and School Counsellor, Andrea Loaiza-Palacio about how to support pupils’ personal happiness, safety and wellbeing, helping them to withstand some of the negative pressures they are exposed to – in school, out of school, and online.

PSHE blog

Andrew Johnson:

The key question here is: “How do we guide young people, in a fast-changing world, so that they can form positive social and personal relationships? The distressing accounts which have been posted online, initiated by Everyone’s Invited, mark a significant moment. It’s right that schools reflect at this time on what we do to equip young people to form healthy relationships, and what we could do even better. Because the wellbeing and safety of young people is our primary concern, we need to be constantly reviewing what we do so that it continues to be as good as possible.

Let’s start by looking at some of the particular influences children face as they learn how to form healthy relationships.

 

Andrea Loaiza-Palacio:

Well, I think first of all we should not be afraid to talk openly and often about the negative influences which face young people – let’s not run away from facing up to the challenges, let’s get things out in the open rather than leaving them in the shadows.

In their free time, many children (though not all, by any means) have extensive access to all sorts of material and information online from an early age, without having an adult supporting them. There are lots of things they can watch online, unsupervised, promoting attitudes and behaviours which they might then think are perfectly normal – it may be behaviour which they think they should expect to see replicated by the girls or boys they meet. We already address pornography in our PSHE programme, for example, and we are considering how we can present to much younger children, in an appropriate way, just how damaging porn is. Left unchallenged, unhealthy attitudes can later  lead to harassment, gendered violence, hurtful comments and other forms of abusive behaviour.

 

Andrew Johnson:

It’s important to acknowledge the generation gap created by the internet, too. Parents are not always aware of what children can access on the internet, since our own childhoods were very different.

 

Andrea Loaiza-Palacio:

Exactly. And you’re right – parents sometimes aren’t aware. Children often have smartphones when they’re in Year 5 or 6, and from then on everything’s in their hands. So it’s definitely something we need to talk about - in the appropriate way - in Year 7 and sooner.

 

Andrew Johnson:

You mentioned boys’ and girls’ expectations of each other - how those expectations are created, and where they are coming from. There are many factors at play which can influence how boys and girls relate to each other in their social and personal relationships, such as peer pressure, the media, celebrity culture.

 

Andrea Loaiza-Palacio:

Yes. You only have to look at streaming services like Netflix, for example, where there is plenty of content promoting promiscuity in the way young adults are depicted and how they relate to each other – really not the right role models for our young people.

 

Andrew Johnson:

So we need to recognise that there’s arguably never been a time when there’s been more pressure on young people to behave in ways that are not as healthy or as positive as we would like, and one thing we can do is to help them to distinguish between what is ‘real’ and constructive, and what is shallow and destructive.

 

Andrea Loaiza-Palacio:

We do a lot in PSHE to address this. There are presentations about peer pressure and the pressures of puberty and adolescence in general. I think that’s the first step: the provision of clear information and the chance to ask questions and to have honest, frank discussions. A key thing we are changing now is to extend the Consent Project workshops, which used to be just for Year 11 and the Sixth Form, to start in Year 7 from now on, taking care to be age-appropriate in how we introduce this material.

 

Andrew Johnson:

I think, too, that a co-educational setting is helpful for young people because girls and boys are learning to be alongside one another in the real world - not on the internet but in real time and in a normal way - in a safe and controlled environment at school. Some social settings are obviously not as controlled, and boys- and sometimes girls-  don’t necessarily remember what they’ve been taught about consent and respect. They are more likely to remember if they’re used to being in each other’s company at school.

 

Andrea Loaiza-Palacio:

I agree. Girls and boys have the opportunity, from an early age, in a co-educational school, to interact in the classroom – taking part in discussions or group work – and to work together as a team in co-curricular activities such as Duke of Edinburgh’s expeditions, Music, Drama. In these settings, gender is not as much of an issue.

 

Andrew Johnson:

And all the time, in co-curricular activities, in their lessons and in form time, they are learning respect for each other and how to work together.

 

Andrea Loaiza-Palacio:

Self-esteem and self-confidence are also big factors in how children treat each other.

Again, there’s useful work being done on this in PSHE, with lessons on physical appearance. We talk about how people want to change how they look with Snap Chat filters; sometimes they don’t want to be themselves anymore because of the pressure of these apps which persuade them – through the reward of ‘likes’ -that the filtered ‘you’ is better than the real ‘you’. That is really hard for kids.

From Year 7 upwards we aim to show children how damaging it is if you can’t accept yourself as you are; that you should never think that your physical appearance is the main thing, just because online this seems to be all that matters. We want to reinforce the message that appearances are not how you really bond with people. It’s by talking about things which are important to you, and listening to what is important to others, that you create strong bonds and friendships – not with a filtered photo.

 

Andrew Johnson:

There’s a direct link there with the huge growth in mental health issues we are witnessing now-  the disconnect between the inner self, who they are as an individual, on the one hand, and the  superficiality of external appearance and online contacts, where they do not feel they can be their true selves, on the other. Not developing a proper sense of ‘self’ can create huge difficulties for children and, indeed, adults.

 

Andrea Loaiza-Palacio:

Exactly, because when you have peace of mind and you wake up happy with who you are – you have nice friends, you have good relationships with family -  that is more rewarding than just getting ‘likes’ online. But the problem with social media is that it creates a neural pathway with a reward system which tells us that other things are not important – it’s how good you look.

 

Andrew Johnson:

You began by saying how important it is to talk to children about the different messages and influences they experience. I think most people would agree that our pastoral care provision encourages conversation – through the regular one-to-one conversations between pupils and their tutors in form time, for example. And pupils can also speak to you, our counsellor, and to the five teacher mentors who have had specific mental health training. We always encourage students to talk to someone if they are unhappy for whatever reason, and not to suffer in silence.

 

Andrea Loaiza-Palacio:

Yes, and we also explain to pupils that abusive behaviour is all about control; the abuser wants to silence the victim so that they are submissive and are controlled, which gives them a sense of power. Once a girl or boy understands that, they are often more willing to speak out and to seek help.

It’s also important to recognise that a boy or girl who is behaving in an abusive way often surrounds themselves by others who support their behaviour without being directly involved.

 

Andrew Johnson:

Which underlines the need for those onlookers, who are aware of what’s going on, to be strong enough to call it out.

To return to the point about wanting to silence the victim – Everyone’s Invited could be seen to be a response to this control – a means of shouting about it. It’s flawed because it’s anonymised but it’s good that it has drawn our attention to profoundly worrying forms of behaviour.

 

Andrea Loaiza-Palacio:

Yes, the important thing is not to suffer in silence. But if victims can take the further step of naming the abuser and seeking help and redress, that abusive behaviour can be confronted.

 

Andrew Johnson:

Sometimes children don’t want to come forward and speak to an adult which is where student mentoring can help. We’re going to give our student mentoring a boost by bringing in an external provider to do some specific training for sixth form mentors, who can then also guide younger pupils about consent.

We’re also bringing in external facilitators for group discussions so we can hear the student voice as effectively as we possibly can.

 

Andrea Loaiza-Palacio:

And we’re already very robust in our lessons on social media. For example, we have a lesson coming up which is called ‘Send me a pic’ -  the presentation talks about how that request makes you feel. What does that mean? What type of pic, and what sort of feelings can be brought about by these interactions online? It’s not just about telling them that this is a crime – it’s mostly about the feelings it creates and how they can respond in the right way, because even if they know about the law they can still feel pressured.

 

Andrew Johnson:

Let’s finish by looking at the context of school, where we are trying to create a culture of trust and confidence. The school’s Benedictine ethos is all about stability in relationships – relationships which promote self respect, confidence and self esteem.

If I’m going to have a sustainable existence in any community I need to have sustainable relationships with others – which I can only have if I respect other people. That’s the fundamental way in which the community is going to thrive. That’s how teachers approach pupils, how teachers approach teachers, and it’s how we want our pupils to approach each other. Very often they do, but occasionally they don’t.

 

 Andrea Loaiza-Palacio:

Having been in a Catholic school all my life as well, just by having this input, talking about values, experiencing a faith-based environment, even if you are not Catholic, it’s the message that you get from it. I think we are a little bit more protected having these kinds of values taught from an early age.

 

Andrew Johnson:

I think you’re absolutely right. It’s the constant reinforcement- this is what we do, this is what we are, and how we go about doing things; that there is a whole accepted way of being  - in a Catholic school people are expected to do  the right thing by someone else. This is not a values-free environment, it’s not a morally relative environment; it’s an environment where Gospel values, Christian values, are where we start and what everything’s framed around. You can’t measure it like exam grades, but it’s hugely helpful.

 

Andrea Loaiza-Palacio:

And our pupils also understand forgiveness. We can’t get it right all the time but if you understand forgiveness, that mistakes can be repaired, that’s good for relationships.

 

Andrew Johnson:

Which is also about sustainability: having respect and care for the other.

 

Andrea Loaiza-Palacio:

And if you don’t forgive and forget, and repair, you’ll end up with no friends!

 

Full details of the St Benedict’s PSHE programme can be found here: PSHE Programme at St Benedict's


 


 

 

 

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