By Dr Hayley van Zwanenberg, child psychiatrist at Priory’s Oxford Wellbeing Centre

Oxford Mail: Dr Hayley van Zwanenberg, an Oxford child psychiatrist Dr Hayley van Zwanenberg, an Oxford child psychiatrist

DURING this lockdown, many schools are asking young people to have their webcams on for lessons.

This is different from previous lockdowns, and understandable from the teacher’s viewpoint – they need interaction and feedback.

Many young people engage well with this, and enjoy seeing classmates, but there are others who find this extremely anxiety-provoking.

As a psychiatrist, I have been asked to write a number of letters for young people excusing them from having cameras on.

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These requests most frequently arise from the mid to older teenage group.

Teenagers spend a lot of time reflecting deeply about themselves and searching for a sense of identity.

Until they feel happy with this, they can really struggle with self-esteem and often feel anxious about their behaviour – even just how they sit and move.

To the anxious student, not confident in themselves, being on a webcam in front of their peers highlights everything they worry about regarding themselves to every peer in their class.

Oxford Mail: Dr Hayley van Zwanenberg, a consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist at Priory Wellbeing Centre in Oxford. Picture: PrioryDr Hayley van Zwanenberg, a consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist at Priory Wellbeing Centre in Oxford. Picture: Priory

When physically in the classroom, they may sit feeling awkward or self-conscious and wondering if another person is watching them.

During online schooling, they wonder if every peer is watching them.

These young people often have a fear of embarrassing themselves, so there is an additional fear of then being asked a question over their mic and getting it all wrong.

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If having the webcam or mic on is causing anxiety for a young person:

1. Listen and validate how they feel. Let them know many people feel the same.

2. Discuss with them that in a class of 30, not all images will be on the screen at one time. Most young people will be thinking about their work or their own image rather than looking at others. If a pupil focuses on listening to the teacher, they may well forget they are on screen. Some young people will be able to challenge their anxieties with this sort of evidence, but other young people may still feel overwhelmed.

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3. If the young person is still feeling overwhelmed, ask them if it might be easier to have the webcam on in some lessons (they may feel less worried with certain peers than others), or if they could have it on for the first five minutes of a lesson to help them start with some gradual exposure and build it up slowly at a rate they feel comfortable.

4. If webcam usage still remains overwhelming for the young person, they may benefit from school being informed and accessing some assistance to help them develop self-esteem and social confidence. Some young people have very high levels of anxiety that impact their daily functioning, and, for them, cognitive behavioural therapy can be very helpful. For others, parents can help build young people’s confidence with simple strategies such as noticing and praising specific abilities, refraining from negative comments and role modelling how to manage situations young people feel they have a skills deficit in.

5. Teachers can focus on the young person’s work screen, if they are able to see them, and use chat functions to check individuals are understanding concepts, and encourage the young person to ask questions over written private chat.