In the week that was mental health awareness week (15 to 21 May), students had a powerful presentation from Mr and Mrs Nicolaou in our acts of worship, about the impact that social media and the internet has on our mental health and wellbeing.
Many of you will remember the tragic suicide of Mr and Mrs Nicolaou’s son Christopher (a Year 10 student at St Mary’s) in March 2022; this was down to his involvement in an online challenge at home and Mr and Mrs Nicolaou have set up a charity called the Christoforos Charity Foundation which provides opportunities for young people to do real social activities such as bowling and paint balling, and reduce their time on the internet.
The first act of worship in the series was attended and supported by Broxbourne MP Sir Charles Walker and Mayor Mr Paul Seeby.
Mr and Mrs Nicolaou’s script is below for parents/carers to read. As the Head Teacher Mr Simms said in his summing up of the act of worship “I have no doubt that it is a source of irritation to you, our students, that mobile phones are banned from use on school site. This has been the case for many years now and this is one of the two reasons why: to reduce your time using phones and to actively encourage you to take part in real, and face-to-face activities during your break times”. Please remember our mobile phone use policy and remind your children not to use them on school site; they will be confiscated if they are caught with them.
As you read Mr and Mrs Nicolaou’s script, please take especial note of the six points at the end and consider carefully how you could apply these to your children.
Mr and Mrs Nicolaou’s presentation:
Good Afternoon everyone, and thank you for making the effort to be here today where we will talk to you about the dangers of social media after the loss of our 15 year old son Christopher one year ago.
Christopher was a lively, happy, educated, well mannered fun and well behaved teenager who always put others before himself. He would respect his elders. He had no signs of depression or seeming down in anyway. He was always top in all subjects at school and was really loved by all his teachers at St Mary’s CE High School. He was asking for additional private educational lessons for maths and English even though he was on top marks for these subjects.
However, he enjoyed playing on-line gaming with friends and even though he only played at the weekends as he was due to the fact he was in education during the week. For the last 2 months of his life we as parents noticed a change in his behaviour such as being extremely quiet, not very active and seemed that he was suffering with a lot of fear like someone had made threats to him. Obviously as parents we asked him several times if everything was OK. He would say yes, but the feeling as a parent said otherwise. It was only after we lost our beautiful son we found that he was involved in the dark-web at no fault of his own, he was offered a game that popped up whilst he was playing another game on line, the pop up offered a FREE £20 game and the mistake that many children can do is click to download, it then asked that he should give information such as address and details of names of himself and of his family. Once they had him where they wanted him to be, they began telling him to carry out certain challenges for more FREE GIFTS, they got Christopher entered into a private forum after disclosing information and they starting making threats such as if he does not do the challenges that are ask it will cause a danger to his family. There was at least 4 people on this online site that was causing our son to enter into a shell that he was never in. After completing all tasks that he was told to do the final experiment by which he believed that he will solve the final challenge, our lives as parents are now shattered.
We formed the Christoforos charity foundation also know as CCFWORLD to offer you all the opportunity to get involved with us in ways of youth club, trips, tours, competitions, activities such as rugby, football, all this will help make you all realise that its not all about staying at home and playing online computer games or on the phone constantly and on social media and forums, and whilst our charity raises sponsorships and donations from individuals and companies, we will for sure keep you all occupied and feel special and involved. Of course, all these activities are totally free for the children. These days, most of us use social media through our smartphones or tablets. While this makes it very convenient to keep in touch, it also means that social media is too readily accessible. This round-the-clock, hyper connectivity can trigger impulse control problems. These constant alerts and notifications can affect your concentration and your focus, disturbing your sleep, and making you addicted to your phone, play station or Nintendo and this is also played online.
Social media platforms are designed to trap you, trap your attention and trap concentration; to keep you online, compelling you to constantly check your digital screen for updates. It’s how the tech’ companies make their money. Much like social media can use and create psychological cravings. For instance, when you receive a ‘like’, a ‘share,’ or a positive reaction to your post, it can trigger the release of dopamine in your brain, the same “reward” chemical that follows when someone wins on a slot machine, for instance. The more you are ‘rewarded,’ the more pull social media has, even if it becomes detrimental to other areas in your life.
Also, there is this Fear-Of-Missing-Out (FOMO) which has the power to keep you returning to social media over and over again. Often, this can make you push aside other important things in your life, which also need your attention. But the feeling of FOMO can make you believe other things are less important. Perhaps you are worried that you may be left out of conversations at school, or if you miss out on the latest news or gossip on social media. Or, maybe you feel that you’ll be excluded, in some way, if you don’t respond quick enough to a post, or if don’t LIKE or SHARE it. You may even begin to have growing feelings of anxiety or worry, thinking that you’re missing out on something, like an invitation to a party – Or that your friends are having more fun, or a better time than you are.
All these things can make social media harmful to you.
Many people your age use social media as a “security blanket”. Perhaps, there have been instances when you’ve found yourself feeling anxious, awkward or lonely in an uncomfortable social setting – And then immediately reach for your phone and log into your social media accounts to, somehow, someway, try and make yourself feel better.
It is so important to try to resist the temptation of social media – to try to give yourselves the chance to start spending more time interacting face to face with friends and family, and less time with digital screens.
Give it a go. It might surprise you to discover how free and peaceful you will feel.
This can help massively in reducing your anxiety and worries – simply by limiting the time you spend on social media platforms. So why don’t you try it?
If you find yourself a heavy social media user – then this might be a sign that something is bothering you. Perhaps you’re trying to mask feelings of stress, depression or loneliness by prolonged use on the internet – maybe as a way to distract yourself, or hide something distressing which is causing you to feel down.
Sadly, many of you may not realise this – that there is also a darker side to the internet including social media. It is here where predators lurk, waiting for opportunities to cause problems for young people like yourselves. This is why it is so important to alert an adult if you stumble on any harmful content, or on any disturbing material online. Please remember if you feel that something does not seem right please Tell someone.
WAYS TO HELP YOU USE LESS OF SOCIAL MEDIA
- Use an app to track how much time you spend on social media each day. Then set a goal for how much you want to reduce it by.
- Turn off your phone at certain times of the day, such as having dinner with your family, spending time with offline friends, or playing with board games with your parents. Don’t take your phone with you to the bathroom.
- Don’t bring your phone or tablet to bed. Turn devices off and leave them in another room overnight to charge.
- Disable social media notifications. It’s hard to resist the constant buzzing, beeping, and dinging of your phone alerting you to new messages. Turning off notifications can help you regain control of your time and focus.
- Limit checks. If you compulsively checking your phone every few minutes, wean yourself off by limiting your checks to once every 30 minutes. Then once every 40 minutes, then once an hour. There are apps that can automatically limit when you’re able to access your phone.
- Try removing social media apps from your phone so you can only check Facebook for example and the like from your tablet or computer. If this sounds like too drastic a step, try removing one social media app at a time to see how much you really miss it.
Please remember if you feel that something does not seem right please Tell someone.