Do teenagers have the resiliency skills to cope?

Published on Monday, 24 February 2014 15:30
Written by Vicki Mitchem

Kevin Gallagher from the CPA (Creative Psychology in Action) tells Govtoday about the pressure young people face in school and at home. 

The barriers to learning that teachers have to overcome in the classroom are increasingly related to the immense pressure that students today are under and the toll this can take.

Through our work at CPA, we are seeing more and more examples of the anxiety our young people are facing and how often they lack the resiliency skills to cope with the challenges of education and examinations, or the pressurised nature of modern childhood and adolescence.

One headteacher recently made clear the distinction when he told me that while teachers are the experts in pedagogy, increasingly the barriers they face relate to an area outside of their expertise – mental health. In this context, I was unsurprised to see research by mental health charity YoungMinds, which reported on what it called the "toxic climate" of pressure and anxiety that children and young people are growing up in today.

A poll of 2,000 children and young people aged 11 to 25 found that more than half of them believe they will be a failure if they do not get good exam results. Furthermore, a third said they had no idea who to turn to for help when they felt depressed or anxious.

The fear of academic failure created by high-stakes testing and the immense pressure of an ever-changing and competitive jobs market can have a severe and long-lasting impact on some students.
For others, it is the pressure that comes with growing up in 2014, in our 24/7 online culture that can take its toll. Issues such as cyber-bullying, sexual pressure, and body image can be devastating for young people who do not have the skills to cope. The top five problems identified by YoungMinds were:

1. Bullying

2. Sexual pressures

3. School stress

4. Unemployment

5. Lack of access to help

This anxiety can manifest itself in various and dangerous ways, not least via self-harm, which is certainly more often reported in schools today and has strong links to the way young people manage pressure.

The YoungMinds research, for example, shows that four out of 10 of respondents aged 11 to 14 have admitted to skipping meals in order to remain thin, a form of self-harm. This comes after ChildLine recently revealed a 41 per cent increase in calls or messages about self-harm with 22,532 young people contacting them about the issue in just 12 months.

Traditionally, the work of educational psychology has focused on vulnerable students facing specific issues such as abuse, family breakdown or violence, SEN, or severe communication needs.

However, more and more schools are now recognising that the mental health needs of all students must be a priority and must be supported as an integral part of their education if they are to have the best chance of realising their potential.
 And resiliency is being recognised as a vital skill that our young people need, not simply for their education or to handle examination pressure, but for the wider and constantly evolving workplace and for modern life.

YoungMinds has warned that we are sitting on a "mental health timebomb" and I cannot help but agree. Only by prioritising the mental health and emotional wellbeing of all students will we help them to develop the skills they need to cope with life in the 21st century.

For more on the Young Minds study, click here.

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