Primary schools will teach pupils as young as four about mental health, ministers will announce today.
Youngsters will learn how to beat depression and stay safe online amid rising concern over the effects of social media on young minds.
Lessons aim to stress the importance of ‘self care’ and ‘mental wellbeing’. Youngsters will be taught how to ward off stress and anxiety by getting enough sleep, spending time outdoors, exercising, eating healthily and playing with friends off-line.
Primary school pupils are experiencing eating disorders, self-harming, panic attacks and even considering suicide amid an ‘upswing’ in problems (stock image)
Teachers will warn them not to stay up all night on their smartphones, tell youngsters what to do if they come across disturbing online content and discuss the dangers of talking to strangers on the internet.
It comes after warnings that spending too much time on social media is impacting on children’s mental health and driving an epidemic of depression.
Experts say sites like Instagram and Facebook expose children to bullying and graphic self-harm images while also fuelling feelings of inadequacy from being bombarded with images of ‘perfect lives’.
Earlier this year, the father of 14-year-old Molly Russell, who took her own life, said she had been influenced by self-harm and suicide content on social media.
Yesterday, campaigners said the fact that schools will be asked to teach such topics is a ‘sad sign of our times’.
The lessons are unveiled today in new guidance for the introduction of compulsory health education in both primary and secondary schools, from 2020.
Education Secretary Damian Hinds said: ‘It will help children learn how to look after themselves, physically and mentally, and the importance of getting away from the screen and the headphones. And it can help young people be resilient as they chart a course through an ever more complex world.
‘Growing up and adolescence are hard enough, but the internet and social media add new pressures that just weren’t there even one generation ago.
‘So many things about the way people interact have changed, and this new world, seamless between online and offline, can be difficult to navigate.’
In tandem with the new health education curriculum, relationships education will also become mandatory for all primary and secondary school pupils.
Meanwhile, secondary school students will get compulsory sex education. As part of the lessons, all youngsters will be encouraged to understand how mental and physical health are linked.
This could include understanding that not eating or sleeping properly, constantly worrying or having negative thoughts are symptoms of anxiety.
Earlier this year, the father of 14-year-old Molly Russell, who took her own life, said she had been influenced by self-harm and suicide content on social media
Primary pupils will be taught ‘age-appropriate’ online safety, including what to do if they come across ‘uncomfortable’ subject matter, the importance of respecting others even when posting anonymously and the risks of talking to people online.
At secondary schools, teachers will ensure that pupils can ‘spot the signs of common mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression in themselves or others’. Pupils will learn how to discuss their emotions ‘accurately and sensitively’ and look at the impact of alcohol and drugs on physical and mental health.
Online safety will be covered with warnings about the dangers of sexting, how to report ‘explicit or harmful content’ and how the internet can ‘sometimes promote an unhealthy view of sex and relationships’.
Schools can decide exactly how they teach the new content, and a £6million support package will be provided to cover training and resources. Javed Khan, head of Barnardo’s, welcomed the move yesterday and said: ‘Although the internet offers incredible opportunities to learn and play, it also carries new risks from cyber-bullying to gaming addiction to online grooming.
‘Similarly, as one in eight schoolchildren has a diagnosable mental health condition, it is particularly welcome that schools now have a clear responsibility to promote positive mental health and wellbeing.’
However, Chris McGovern, of the Campaign for Real Education, said: ‘The fact that schools are being asked to do this is a sad sign of our times.
‘It’s true that some children will come across disturbing content online but I think they should be supported individually. A blanket approach risks introducing children to matters they may not otherwise have come across.
‘It may even encourage them to seek this content out if they view it as the “forbidden fruit”.’
A survey by the NASUWT teaching union last year found that children as young as four are suffering from symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Primary school pupils are experiencing eating disorders, self-harming, panic attacks and even considering suicide amid an ‘upswing’ in problems.