Is it harder than ever to be a child nowadays?
PUBLISHED: 12:56 19 September 2016
Growing up has never been easy but are the pressures on modern children particularly acute and if so, what can we do about it? Sheena Grant reports on a movement to help children cope better with the pressures of modern life and how Suffolk parents can find out more.
All the evidence seems to suggest there’s something inherently unhealthy about modern childhood.
The latest research shows one in ten five to 16-year-olds now has a diagnosable mental health problem.
There’s no silver bullet when it comes to identifying the reasons for this worrying trend - it could be pressure from exams, social media and the internet or a combination of things - but the issue is starting to concentrate the minds of teachers, parents and healthcare professionals.
At Framlingham College this year a well-being programme has been introduced, with students having timetabled lessons in mindfulness, a technique that encourages moments of mental stillness to help develop strategies for dealing with life’s stresses and strains.
Now all Suffolk parents – regardless of which school their child attends – have the chance to attend an evening where they too can learn more about mindfulness and how it can help their children.
The event takes place at Framlingham College on October 6 and will feature clinical psychologist Dr Hazel Harrison, who will talk about the latest research into improving children’s well-being and resilience, and Claire Kelly, director of Mindfulness in Schools Project, who will be exploring why mindfulness is important and how it is being implemented in education.
The session follows on from one for teachers earlier in the year and organisers hope to build on it with a series of similar events for parents which will complement any existing programmes running in schools.
Mum-of-two Lucy Flack, whose children, aged five and seven, attend Earl Soham Primary School, is one of the driving forces behind the October event.
“I’m not a teacher but I managed to go to the mindfulness day for professionals back in April and found it really inspiring,” she says. “I felt like it was something that needed to come from home as well as schools to have an impact.
“For me it was about starting with myself and finding time and space that could have a positive impact on the family. I took away the fact that to be a good parent and support your children you need to be able to teach your children resilience to cope with the ups and downs they will face.
“My children are still only young but I worry about the pressures they will face going forward, with social media, peer pressure and the internet. As parents we can’t be there in the playground when someone calls them names but we can show how to walk away and how to deal with it.
“One of my children had Sats last year and although the school handled it very well it’s all part of the pressure on children to perform in tests and exams from a young age. It is about getting the balance right.”
Lucy is hoping one of the things that may come out of next month’s event is the chance to build a support network for parents interested in how mindfulness could help their children.
“I would definitely like to see more schools taking it on board and putting mindfulness and related techniques such as yoga on their agendas too,” she says.
Tom Caston, deputy head - pastoral at Framlingham College, has been instrumental in setting up its mindfulness and well-being programme and says it is part of a growing number of schools which are implementing similar strategies.
“Children are crying out for space and balance,” he says. “We are aiming to give them the tools to manage whatever comes their way.”
The school has trained 25 staff members in mindfulness and plans to train more year-on-year so the techniques can be embedded and used as the need arises. Its mindfulness programme aims to build space and stillness into the school day and offer pupils techniques they can use in the classroom.
“We can use it to help students who have trouble sleeping, get nervous around exam time and many other things,” says Mr Caston. “It is about awareness, resilience and learning to live in the moment. No-one is going to succeed in the classroom and realise their potential if they are anxious. The data we collect through questionnaires about pupils’ well-being as this system becomes more established will be really interesting.”
Framlingham College head master Paul Taylor believes next month’s event for parents from across the county is vitally important.
“People are beginning to wake up and want to do something about the pressures that young people are facing,” he says.
“Self-harm, eating disorders and other mental health issues have exploded in the last 15 years. We know that something is happening that wasn’t happening before and we have to act.
“Pupils’ mental health and well-being is something we take really seriously as a school. For me mindfulness is about giving pupils coping strategies to spot when they are feeling stressed and anxious so they know what to do about it.”
Pressure to do well in exams and engaging with the never-sleeping online world of social media and the internet are two areas that Mr Taylor feels have changed the modern landscape of growing up.
“In terms of academic performance and social media especially it is a very different world these days,” he says. “Social media can bring huge benefits but it can be a problem because it can be hard to get any down time from it and the pressure it can generate. Someone’s online persona and what they would like to present on their homepage compared to real life can be a fine line for teenagers to navigate.
“I think all schools see this and to me it is about being honest enough to acknowledge that those issues are there and give young people coping strategies. It is very difficult to turn the clock back on social media. We are not going to eradicate stress. We have to know how to deal with it.”
Mr Taylor is also vocal about the damage focussing on exams to the exclusion of all else can have.
“I’ve long held that education is about the whole child, not just exams,” he says. “The focus purely on exam results which has been forced on schools has sometimes led to an unhealthy emphasis that does not help pupils but I don’t see the approach we are taking as mutually exclusive to striving for academic excellence. We are academically very ambitious but I also see education as being about the whole person, not just exams.”
Tickets for the mindfulness and wellbeing evening on October 6 cost £5 each and can be reserved by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.