My daughter took her GCSE’s last summer. My son is in the middle of his now. They both are on the conveyor belt of studying and taking exams and seem to think that their exams are THE most important thing ever. Whilst I praise their enthusiasm for exam preparation and study, I’m struck by how much pressure there seems to be on their very young shoulders and that worries me as their mum. It is also worrying me as a teacher to hear about so many young people with anxiety or stress related conditions. There is so much emphasis on passing tests and exams in the school system these days that the love of learning something new has been squeezed out of their experience. My children look at school work as a torture and something to get done so that they can move on to the next part. Where is the wanting to find out about an aspect of their learning that has inspired them? It’s just the wrong way round isn’t it?
I know many parents thank the Lord that social media wasn’t around when they were young! The evidence of our experiences and cock-ups would be there for everyone to view again and again and again. Can you imagine? Awful! Well I guess that’s why my children don’t want me to put their picture on social media. My daughter has told me that she only uses Snapchat really and she is very cautious about what goes on because she does not want her whole life to be recorded. I get it totally. She is on other social media sites but she won’t befriend me and I respect that. She wants her privacy just like I didn’t want anyone to read my diary at her age. I think children these days are rebelling against the need to share everything and rightly so. Perhaps they are taking back their freedom to be kids as much as they can. Both my children know that things on the internet are forever and they don’t want everyone to see their mistakes. I worry that the pressure comes from what others post on social media without their control or permission. What if your best friend had posted a picture of you drunk when they were drunk in some compromising position with some guy? Regretting it in the morning is too late really.
Both my children play competitive sport and I’m super proud of them but I’m struck by how different my experiences with sport were. I played a good standard of sport but I didn’t worry about my trainers or about what I ate. I was a teenager for Gods sake! I ate what I liked, when I liked and my trainers were the ones that did the job. I didn’t even think about my body at all until I was at university! There is so much “industry” in sport and exercise these days, just look at all the perfect “athletes” on social media! The pressure on our children to have the perfect body is immense and although my teenagers know that many of these pictures have been altered, looking good to them is very important. My daughter loves her make-up and knows everything about all the different brands. My son is 14 but he wears after shave and his hair has to be just right. At their age I did wear a little make-up but I often took 10 minutes to get ready for school so that I could stay in bed a little longer!
My son plays regional level hockey and goes to a training centre in Bristol. I love that he has this opportunity, as youth sport did not really exist when I was his age. My concern though is that he is given training in health and diet too. It’s as if his natural talent and drive is not enough……he is under pressure here when perhaps he should just be allowed to enjoy his hockey as he is still so young. His time and dedication may not mean that he gets to play nationally; he knows that but when I was his age I was playing all kinds of different sports and he doesn’t really. I love the fact that he is playing such great hockey but I suppose I’m just surprised by how the system puts pressure on our children when sport should be more about fun at this age, surely.
My teens and I often have conversations about the state of the world. I have always answered the questions my children ask me. If they ask, they must be thinking about it and be developmentally ready in my opinion. So, if they ask me about why orangutans are endangered I will talk about Palm oil plantations. We will talk about the pros and cons of something so that they can make up their own mind. Teenagers have strong opinions about things so I hope to show them that there are varying views too. I just don’t want them to think the world is a terrible place. There is so much good in this world that I want them to know about it. I also don’t want them to worry about things as they are only young so my advice to other parents is not to talk about adult things to children unless they ask you. Why give them the added stress at 10?
So what can we do as parents to help our children navigate this pressured world? Well I just talk to my children as much as possible. Tell them they are amazing. Tell them they look good if they ask me. Ask them how their day was. Ask them about their homework. Tell them that the world is there for them to discover and that most people in this world are good but there are some that aren’t. Help them to prepare for exams by timetabling their time. Praise them on their EFFORTS not their grade. At the end of the day, not every child will get 10 A’s or 9’s! Explain that to them……explain that adults are just like children and that we all do the jobs or hobbies because we can and hopefully because we like them. Children need to be told that they must follow their dreams and choose a life that is for them. They must not choose a life that will please their parents or teachers. I think this is especially true of children that always do as they’re told. If they love Art, then choose to study Art. I also talk to them about reality too. The reality is that if they may not be able to be a doctor or a singer or whatever…..they are 16 and 14 and they know this (I would never tell this to a 10 year old btw as they are still finding out what they enjoy). But, if they really want something in life they have to go for it….they have to strive to get where they want to be. It won’t just be handed to them. Equally, if they don’t know what they want then go with the flow……do what they enjoy and see what happens. Life is exciting! Life is not a set path. Obviously after these conversations they often tell me, “ok mum…we get it!” But you know what, in those small moments I hope I am giving them the tools to laugh and see that life is fun, not pressured and that the world is there for them to discover.
OH THE JOYS OF LIVING IN THE OLD HOUSE IN THE SHIRES.