I have three teenagers, and I’m always wrestling my thoughts on how best to prepare them for independent adult life. It concerns me that our schools don’t provide any real-life skills training for them and that the world outside of school requires more than an ‘academic’ qualification to survive and thrive. The world they are preparing to enter as young adults is a complex jungle that they will be under prepared for and probably overwhelmed by.
Being a teenager in the 21st century can be emotional rollercoaster ride. Teens have so many tough decisions, peer pressures, personal insecurities, anxieties of what others think and increased pressures to perform academically. Not to mention the additional destructive distractions of easily accessible pornography, drugs and social media. Teenagers lives today are on show 24/7 with the likes of Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat etc. Needless to say, there is huge pressure to keep up a public image.
Many headteachers I meet express concerns that schools are being asked to do so much more that deliver academic success without the resources and time. The biggest challenge of secondary education in the UK, mental health, or the lack of it. Why are we facing this crisis in secondary education and could it affect your child? And, more importantly as a parent what can we do about it?
I personally believe there are three major factors causing this lack of mental health and life skills in our teenagers.
Firstly, an education system that focuses heavily on the acquisition of academic achievement, but places little emphasis on developing a child’s character. Our education system puts tremendous pressure on teens to perform academically, yet it does not equip them with the skills needed to cope with the adversities of life. Academic success takes priority, and this leaves teenagers hopelessly under prepared for life and lacking in confidence.
Secondly, the culture of parental over-involvement, that leads to teenagers having little skills to navigate life outside their structured school environment. Many parents actively smooth out the bumps in the road ahead for their children, and thereby eliminating any opportunities for setbacks. This creates a teenager who is not ‘hardy’ or ‘robust’ enough to excel in the real world, or take responsibility for their life. Abraham Lincoln said, “the worst thing that we can do for our children are things that they should be doing for themselves.”
Thirdly, the lack of independent life during the teenage years. The teens years are a vital transition period where teenagers need to move away from dependency to independency and ultimately interdependency. Every part of a teenager’s life is becoming more and more structured and micromanaged. Being spoon-fed for so long makes it hard for young adults to suddenly be in charge of themselves and responsible for their choices and actions. And, the message this creates is – ‘I am not capable without significant and constant external guidance.’
My teenage daughter visited a friend this July and they cycled into Kingston together, (about a 20-minute ride). She expressed afterwards how scared she was cycling with only a friend. It occurred to me, that something which I had done every day as a child independently as a means to get to school, visit friends and get to sports matches has now become a fearful activity for the modern-day teenager.
Compound this with the research that reveals teenagers are spending 27 hours a week online and becoming dependent on their screens. That’s almost four hours a day online. The results of this are much less time to socially interact and causes social awkwardness.
I think that teenagers need life skills to thrive in the rapidly changing world. Moreover, I passionately believe that parents need to drive this change in order for our education system to provide our children with life skills, beyond academic achievement that will help them be mentally strong, successful and happy in life.
We need to educate the whole-person not just focus on the narrow field of academics. Educating the whole-person involves there Mind, Body, Heart and Spirit so that children can develop emotional wellbeing. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teenagers does just this because the habits are based on timeless principles that any teen can learn and apply to their life. I am really excited about sharing this with you because I know it can make a positive difference to education and family life.
The 7 Habits help teens to:
- take responsibility for their life
- develop resilience
- gain self-belief
- reduce stress and anxiety
- make good decisions
- recover from setbacks
- communicate effectively
- listen sincerely
- prioritise the most important
- improve friendship relationships
- develop emotional wellbeing
I would like to hear some of your thoughts on the challenges you are facing with your teenagers. What are your two top questions?
United Education Group