As well as working as a therapist, I have worked as a secondary school teacher for more than 20 years and over time I have become increasingly aware that young people are experiencing high levels of stress and anxiety. My thoughts below are based on personal anecdotal experience within the classroom and from my private practice and, though I do not include any scholastic or proven scientific research, there are articles and surveys out there that support my points.  

What is causing this stress and anxiety?

  • The pupil attempting a subject or range of subjects that he or she is simply not suited to. This can happen when the pupil desperately wants to follow a career path that he or she sees as ideal. Or when parents have decided what they want their child to do 
  • The pressure to secure the top grade. The pupil feels that he has to achieve it in order to put himself ahead of the pack; schools feel the pressure to secure the grade in order to maintain their positions on the league tables and the parents need the top grade in order to secure their belief that their child is going to have a chance in life
  • Those pupils at high achieving schools often have immense pressure put on their time. They are given hours of homework on a daily basis on top of any other commitments that they might have
  • Today’s kids are not sleeping enough. Some of the reasons above are to blame but a fixation on social media is probably the main culprit. Ask your child if their phone is turned off at night. How many times do they check their phone for messages and updates through the night? They might think they are getting a good night’s sleep, but are they really? What we see in the classroom is the adolescent who is tired, irritable and incapable of concentrating.  You can read about the importance of sleep here
  • Those of us who use gyms have probably noticed how many teenage boys are now regulars on the weights floor. In the past it has been more common for girls to struggle with body image issues. While many young girls still have issues around food and image, it is becoming more and more common for boys also to have similar difficulties

What can be done to reduce stress and anxiety in the classroom?

  • We need excellent rapport between school and home. As teachers, we need to know and understand the pupil in front of us really well. The channels of communication need to be open and honest. Parents need to listen and encourage their children to listen.
  • The pupil needs to feel that there is at least one adult at school who knows them well and who can be trusted. Teachers need to be trained in how to deal with a pupil who comes to them with a personal problem. There are times that a pupil won't want to discuss their difficulties with their parents and would prefer to speak to someone at school.
  • All of us (teachers, parents and pupils) need to manage expectations.
  • Alternatives to the traditional academic qualifications need to be explored. In some cases, they need to be introduced. We are not all Oxbridge candidates and schools and parents need to make every effort to make all options available.
  • Adolescents need time to be adolescents. They need time for relaxing, socialising or even doing a part time job. Something like a part time job teaches so many soft skills that are not taught on the traditional curriculum. How to talk to strangers. What is meant by a professional dress code. Earning your own money and how to manage it. These skills prepare them for the real world.
  • Schools and parents need to be geared up to deal with mental illness. There are still schools that do not have counsellors or where the counselling on offer is limited. In an ideal world, counselling should be a free and confidential service that functions within the day to day structure of the school. It needs to be normalised so that it is not a big deal.
  • Adolescents need to be educated about their own mental health. They need to be taught about the potential dangers of things like social media and the impact of poor sleeping, eating and exercise habits. Schools play an important role here and there are schools that run excellent PSHCE programmes. But parents need to play their part too.
  • Parents need to learn to spot the signs that their child is not happy and then make counselling or therapy available to their child.  Yes, it will come at a financial cost. But a happy and contented child is priceless.