As we approach the exam season, it is quite natural for students to develop a sense of dread. Tests and exams can be a challenging part of school life for youngsters; a little bit of stress is a good thing. There are many good websites that provide sound advice to students, parents or carers. Just Google “exam stress”.
Hardly a day goes by without reading about children struggling with stress, anxiety, serious behavioural concerns, developmental challenges, mental illness including depression often in children as young as four, aggressive and violent behaviour, increases in ADHD and ODD diagnoses. In a country as relatively affluent as ours, it makes no sense. It is a serious condemnation on society that the resources to help youngsters with disability or mental illnesses are marginalised.
I would suspect that the number of youngsters causing concern is also down to better diagnosis. However, there is probably more to it. I would hazard a guess that ‘lifestyle’ and the impact it has on building resilience in students is a key component, particularly in managing stress, anxiety and other related conditions. The world might feel like a more perilous place than it was 50 years ago, in reality, it is us that have probably become more risk averse.
If I take a child on a school trip, it would be ‘more than my jobs worth’ than to allow them to climb a tree. (I don’t have a qualification in tree climbing.) We would rather have our kids playing with an iPad than roaming on the South Downs. When you lose control of one set of risks you replace it with another; the internet is probably the most risky thing you can expose a youngster to. In trying to prevent some bruises and bumps, we also inhibit our children’s development of autonomy, competence, confidence and resilience.
By insisting on doing everything ourselves, because we can do things better and more safely, or over-controlling our children’s lives, we deprive kids of the chance to make and test observations, to experiment and tinker, to fail and bounce back. Aligned to this is the urge to ‘wade in’. Being a parent means unconditional love for your children, it also means tough love, this is undermined when we feel the urge to wade in to our children’s troubles or complain at the first sniff of an issue. What message does this send?
I am not suggesting we allow our children to engage in activities without us accessing the risk - far from it. We must not be afraid to let our children grapple with a little bit of healthy risk and on occasions let them fail and not make excuses for them, this is how they learn and become more resilient. Engaging in pursuits away from cyber space, outside any educational justification, is just plain fun, something we’ve forgotten can be a worthy childhood pursuit in itself!
Maybe this might be the long term antidote to exam stress.