RSHE: Using drama to address online abuse

Written by: Gary Baxendale | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Using drama across the curriculum can help adolescents tackle some of the challenges they face. Teacher Gary Baxendale discusses using drama and role-play to address the dangers of online abuse


While adolescents have always had issues to deal with, modern technologies and shifting social attitudes mean today’s young people are particularly in need of support. If this isn’t challenging enough, they also have to deal with the impact of the pandemic. However, using drama as part of our teaching approaches can help us to address some of these challenges.


Braving the new world

The childhood young people find themselves navigating today is far different to the one experienced by their parents. While technology has brought many benefits, as teachers we are constantly reminded of the risks it poses to children: online bullying, grooming, access to radicalisation, issues with body image, consent and so forth.

During the lockdown, these risks will have increased, with children spending an average of nine hours a day using technology (ET, 2020). At the same time, we are living in a world where social attitudes have radically changed and, indeed, continue to change during the pandemic.

Issues concerning race, sexuality, gender, relationships, diversity, sustainability and more are high on the public agenda. While we are beginning to see some progress towards a fairer, safer and more equal society, young people need support in understanding how these changes relate to them and how they have an important role to play in shaping society themselves in the future. In many cases, unfortunately, this support has been in short supply since the pandemic began.

School solutions

Schools should not be the only place where children are given support to deal with adolescent issues in a changing society. Post-pandemic, it should be a priority that is addressed by parents, local and national government, community groups and, importantly, by the technology and media companies whose products young people swarm to.

However, as conscientious teachers, we have a moral responsibility to do our best. Indeed, across the curriculum, we do a very good job in exploring these issues and giving children opportunities to learn about, understand and discuss the challenges of the digital age. Subjects like PSHE/RSHE, English literature and history are particularly useful, while many schools also address issues in assemblies, workshops and talks from external visitors. What’s more, when an issue is raised in any classroom, most teachers will take time out to address it.


The role of drama

Drama offers children a unique way to tackle adolescent issues because it enables them to experience what facing an issue is like. Indeed, the drama room is the perfect nurturing environment in which to safely explore and question not just the issues but children’s attitudes towards them.

Provide children with a short, scripted play about any contemporary adolescent issue and you open the doors to deeper learning. Whether you are addressing cyber-bullying, racism, gender stereotyping, pornography or any other topic, acting out the play gives the children the chance to be in the action and to feel what it is like to be the victim, the perpetrator, the friend or parent.

Acting makes the experience more real for the pupil, helping them to better understand how the issue affects everyone involved and, through this, develop empathy and deal more effectively with those situations.

The scripted play, however, is only the starting point. From here, drama offers the valuable opportunity to improvise. Here pupils work in groups to explore their own solutions to the issues raised. How could the character avoid getting into such a situation? What could friends or parents do to help them? What would happen to the perpetrator if they carried on behaving in the same manner?

These are not simply discussions; what the children create are new plays, acted out and experienced in performance. They are scenes that take the characters and events of the scripted play and find solutions that the children can put to practical use when facing the same or similar issues themselves back in their everyday lives. In a sense, it is like group therapy; the answers are not given to them by someone who “knows better” but are found through the collaborative efforts of everyone.

From here, teachers can choose to explore the topic further. There can be class discussions that evaluate the actions of the characters, posters can be created and displayed in classrooms, pupils can polish and perform the plays to a wider audience, perhaps at assemblies. The potential for extending learning about these issues across the school is considerable.


Using drama across the curriculum

Though drama teachers might feel more at home delivering these kinds of lessons. This approach can be of use in subjects across the school, including PSHE/RSHE, English, social and health care, history and even science.

What’s more, these lessons are completely tech-free. Not only do they give children a break from the technology that permeates both their home and school lives, they help show pupils that there are other exciting ways to learn besides staring at a screen.

Non-drama teachers can now make use of specially created textbooks that contain short plays and monologues about a wide range of adolescent issues and which come complete with scripts, improvisation suggestions, discussion topics and written work. These can be taught as discrete lessons or be incorporated into or used to complement existing schemes of work.


Conclusion

With today’s children facing so many issues, drama can play a vital role in supporting them to navigate the modern world. With the right learning resources in place, teachers in all subjects now have an opportunity to help pupils develop a deeper understanding of these issues and, importantly, learn how to tackle them. And through tackling them, we can improve children’s wellbeing and help them recover from impact of the pandemic.

  • Gary Baxendale is a drama teacher and textbook author. His book, 20 Adolescent Plays and Monologues for Schools: Tackling teen Issues and digital dilemmas, is published by Blossom Spring and available now. Visit www.garybaxendale.co.uk


Further information & resources

  • Education Technology: Study suggests lockdown could have permanently altered families’ tech habits, October 2020: https://bit.ly/3FeaFzW


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