Anxiety in teenagers: a scary phenomenon

The pressure on students doing GCSEs

As a youngster, I suffered times of darkness brought on by specific times of difficulty my family faced. The youth of today face far more stressful situations and challenges to their mental health.

I recently gave a masterclass aimed at teenagers completing their GCSEs. I asked them to complete a poll telling me what their main struggles were. The result was a 50:50 split between managing their workload and the feeling of overwhelm due to the pressure of their studies.

Pressure is passed from the school to the student

We are simply transferring to students the inordinate pressure many now feel in the workplace. This isn’t a healthy situation and it doesn’t have to be like this. A recent post shared by Birendra Agarwal showed how Sweden has a much healthier work-life balance. Only 1% of the workforce work more than 50 hours a week and most of the day being spent on leisure, eating or exercise.

In schools teachers are awarded for good result. The pressure on the school to get the results leads to teachers being over observed and critiqued. Pressure is loaded on teachers and is translated to pressure on students and the cycle builds. The more competitive schools have to be, to prevent a poor outcome, and therefore be deemed unfit, the more pressure builds on teachers to do well, and this of course is transferred to students.

The upshot is that teenagers are anxious and overwhelmed and this is reflected in:

  • poor behaviour
  • lack of sleep
  • anxiety
  • depression
  • panic attacks
  • weight loss or gain
  • poor self esteem
  • self harming

As a parent and a teacher these manifestations are scary and the knowledge of how to manage them limited.

It’s time to change

We now have to figure out ways to reduce this cycle of stress, that leads to anxiety, if we are to give our children a happy healthy start in life. And it has to start at the top. This means we must find a different way to get the best out of schools without their being this fear of judgement being transferred into a fear of failure.

I have met one or two headteachers who have the right disposition and morale stance to build cohesive environments. But I’ve met several who don’t. We need to actively seek leaders who are fit for the job and build cooperation built on mutual respect and permeate every layer of a school.

Anxiety in our young

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