Teenage Stress

The recent WHO report into the Health Behaviour in School-Aged children makes for interesting reading. It is a mammoth undertaking stretching to 294 pages and providing quantitative data and statistics, qualitative responses and policy implications. The content is collated from 44 countries across the globe. Worryingly, fifteen-year-old girls in Scotland face more pressure from schoolwork and report poorer health than all other nations, bar one (Malta).

The Scottish government suggest that income inequality is at the root of the issue.

I am not so sure. I think there are wider issues at play – the prevalence of social media and the opportunity for it to be used negatively, the increasing burden on students in terms of the perceived importance of assessment as well as all the other factors that come into play during normal teenage development.

Whilst figures are hard to find, the increase in self-harm is becoming a major concern. A school-based survey sought to determine the prevalence of self-harming behaviour and serious thoughts of self-harm among 2008 adolescents aged 15-16 years in Scotland (O’Connor et al 2009). More than one in eight (13.8%) reported at least one episode of self-harm, with a nearly threefold difference between girls (19.9%) and boys (6.9%).

That single statistic combined with the WHO report should urge caution in how we proceed. Whilst I am, of course, interested primarily in education, it is students’ health and well-being which are of fundamental importance in being able to access and engage in positive learning experiences. Pressure, fear, unimaginative school assessment requirements, misuse of social media and the like are undermining our ability as a nation to progress in a human way that is fit for purpose. I have long argued that our examination system is ruining education and I am delighted to read Keir Bloomer express a similar view which can be read in today’s Herald (20/04/2016).

Whilst qualifications are of central importance to future academic success, a set of excellent results should be the by-product of a fabulous educational experience. At the moment too many nations around the world see such results as the end product.

Clearly, if this report is anything to go by, we are getting things dreadfully wrong in our secondary schools.

Is it not time to allow childhood to stretch beyond early adolescence?