Drawing upon my knowledge and experience as a Psychologist I have worked with many schools in the UK supporting them in engaging families with their children’s learning. In fact I still run a Family Learning Project, The Learning Tree, in the UK which enables me to keep up to date with the latest best practice in the UK education system; and there is much on the subject of Well-being to keep up with.
Well-being is a phrase that is currently on trend, not only in education but globally. It can be defined as the state of being comfortable, healthy or happy. It has become so important in the UK that the British Government now attempt to measure the level of happiness or Well-being as an indicator of GDP. Here at BISS Puxi we see Well-being as a way of enabling students, teachers and parents to develop strengths that when the going gets tough, and we all know life doesn’t always run smoothly, we are able to bounce back, to be resilient.
I have just returned from a very entertaining evening watching the KS3 performance of Fool’s Gold. Amidst the songs and jollity, the romance and the moral message one line jumped out at me, ‘The trouble is, we worry too much.’ As parents you could say it is our job to worry, but is it just anecdotal or is there now evidence to suggest that our children are worrying too much, making it harder for them to bounce back.
Professor Tanya Byron, a leading British Clinical Psychologist and expert on Child development has identified that more young people in the age group 11-15 are presenting with mental health issues than in the previous decade and that it is now encompassing a wider range of young people. A new group of teenagers are now emerging that on the surface would seem to have it all. She explains how they appear to be ‘fantastic people in fantastic places of education’ who have comfortable homes, enriched activities and holidays and yet as she puts it are ‘significantly breaking down.’ They are fearful of failing, striving for unobtainable perfection and ‘choking on anxiety.’ They are unable to recognize that an exam grade is not an indicator of who they are. As parents of young teenagers in a community that is full of choice and opportunity and exam pressure, how can we begin to understand this and in turn support the young people in our care?
Adolescence is a time of great fun and adventure, we now know, thanks to the advances in neuroscience in the last decade, that it is also a period of vulnerability for young people. It is at this time that the frontal lobe of the adolescent brain is shedding many thousands of neurons and re-wiring itself. An analogy I rather like is that the frontal lobe of the brain should act like a braking system enabling the brain to reflect, wonder and put things into context. In a teenager’s brain the brake wires are cut, the foot is firmly on the accelerator pedal, with the threshold of risk-taking and strong emotions set at a much higher level than their parents. Hence when we often hear our teenagers tell us, ‘we don't understand’ we really don't understand their reality. Their mind is different from an adult’s mind.
In a recent survey of 5000 British teenagers they were asked to identify what caused them anxiety. They identified school stress, bullying, sexual pressures, access to help and pressures from family, friends and teachers to do well.
Dr Dickon Bevington, Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist suggests that as parents there are two key strengths that we can develop – active listening and in turn an awareness of how our children are functioning at home, with friends and at school. We need to build a relationship with our children where we are hearing and understanding levels of distress. For example, a common sign of depression in a teenager is irritability, not something we readily associate with depression. To do this we need to become active listeners for understanding rather than listening to then take action and try and fix it. A role we so often take as parents.
Here at BISS Puxi, the Well-being of students, staff and parents is crucial to creating a learning community that is confident enough to recognise the challenges faced by our teenagers and then to actively develop approaches that will enable us all to be resilient and in turn to flourish.
There is a lot of good work, much of it stemming from the work on strengths and mental toughness that was started last year with the Positive Psychologist and Coach, Clive Leach who will be returning to work with us at BISS Puxi in February 2016.
The PHSE curriculum for Year 7-Year 9 has been greatly enriched by work on identifying and developing individual strengths. Year 9 students are being taught coaching skills to enable them to undertake peer-to-peer coaching within their year group. We will be launching next term, an ECA on Mindfulness training for Year 10 and Year 11 and there will also be an opportunity for Year 12 to participate in Mindfulness sessions as part of the CAS programme. These will be led by Sarah Reynolds, a BISS Puxi teacher who is a Mindfulness practitioner. Our teachers who participated in the training with Clive in April are currently embedding the knowledge and skills they have acquired relating to mental toughness and this will be further built upon when Clive returns at the end of February.
And we don’t leave parents out. Following on from an extremely successful coaching conversations workshop in April, when twenty-five parents attended to learn more from Clive Leach about the GROW approach to coaching and active listening , we have sustained a group of ten parents who meet fortnightly to develop their coaching skills for personal development and to improve their relationships with their children, partners and friends.
Our Well-being page on the website will be where you can find out more about this work in the coming year, the information evenings and events that we are planning with Clive Leach and other outside providers, and useful resources and articles on Well-being. So, stop worrying too much, join us in learning to flourish here at BISS Puxi and watch this space.
If you would like to learn more about the teenage mind you can download the ‘All in the Mind’ broadcast on teenage mental health, first broadcast on 27 October 2015.
Sue Smith, Well-being Co-ordinator