School clamps down on phones and Fitbits to ease body image worries

A girls’ school is banning wearable activity trackers and smartwatches because of concerns that pupils are skipping lunch if they fail to meet their calorie and exercise targets.

Teachers at Stroud high school in Gloucestershire fear the gadgets are exacerbating some girls’ worries about their body image.

The deputy headteacher, Cindi Pride, told Gloucestershire Live that the school’s active and healthy girls did not need to count calories and the number of steps they took each day.

She said: “We are banning Fitbits and smartwatches. These monitor the number of calories burned and we found that some girls would monitor the number of steps they had taken and the number of calories they had used. If they didn’t feel they had taken enough steps in the morning, they wouldn’t eat lunch.

“We don’t need our girls to be counting calories. They are young women who are fit and healthy and they do exercise and PE and do not need to be obsessed with steps or calories.”

The school is also taking a hard look at other technology and the use of social media. Pride said: “There have been many reports about how excessive use of social media can have a negative impact on mental health, particularly for girls.

“And the situation is getting worse. It can have a real impact on self-esteem, with people comparing themselves to others.”

The school, which has academy status, carried out a survey earlier this year in which almost three-quarters of pupils admitted constantly checking or responding to social media. Earlier this year students organised a “digital detox week”.

When pupils return from their summer break, girls in years 7 to 9 will be banned from using their mobile phones at all during the school day.

Those in years 10 and 11 will be allowed to use their mobiles at lunch, and pupils in the sixth form – which includes boys – will be allowed to use their phones freely except in lessons.

In a letter to parents, assistant headteacher Nadine Moore wrote that fear of missing out was an additional pressure faced by teens through social media.

She wrote: “Being a teenager is hard enough, but the pressures faced by young people online are unique to this digital generation.

“Research suggests that young people who are heavy users of social media – spending more than two hours per day on social networking sites – are more likely to report poor mental health.

“Seeing friends constantly ‘having fun’ can make young people feel like they are missing out while others enjoy life.

“While for many young people Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) may not be a problem, for others it is causing them distress in the form of anxiety and feelings of inadequacy.”

One parent said: “This is a good move, which addresses important issues in an appropriate and measured way. Hopefully it will mean that the students communicate with each other more on a face-to-face basis in the real world.”

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