The return to school is looming, anxious or happy?

What a pleasant summer we have had with warm sunshine, light nights and lots of opportunity to spend quality time with our family and friends in the great outdoors. As September draws near so does the inevitable return to school. For some this is no problem at all but for others it can be a very daunting and worrying time. For me it means a return to school to assist and coach students in secondary education who experience fear and anxiety in the school environment on various different levels.
Thinking back to my teenage years I remember happy times with my parents and friends, lots of sporting activities, being around horses, schoolwork and learning, meeting new people, evenings out at the ice rink, meeting boys and going to parties.
What I didn’t experience was the pressure to wear the right label of clothing, be thin, look and say the right things, be frightened to be slightly different and the publication of exam results and league tables.
The pressure on young people today is phenomenal, from what they need to look like, having the accepted make of mobile technology, wearing the best clothing labels, being in the most popular group of school friends and having to deal with the publication of GCSE results for all to see which is totally mind blowing.

Just listening to parents and young people talking about their prom regarding the cost, how to be different, prom proposals, what transport to arrive in, who to arrive and be seen with and what to wear is very alien to me. The whole meaning of having a prom to celebrate the completion of study by letting your hair down and having fun has been completely surpassed with how much money needs to be to spent  and one-upmanship. Something that should be exciting and enjoyable has turned into a competitive, money spending frenzy which totally detracts from the true purpose and it is such a shame.  All this plus working for GCSE’s is a pressure young people could do without.

Young people of today seem to be laden down with more pressure and worry compared to my teenage days which seemed to be more simple and carefree. Don’t get me wrong, there are things that have improved like technology and communications, TV choices, accessibility to music and activity choices like indoor sky diving, go-karting on ice and many more. Regardless of all these fantastic opportunities, which should be experienced and embraced, young people appear troubled and stressed! Most young people  have few responsibilities in their teenage years so why are they not more stress and worry free? Why is their focus on what other people think and do instead of concentrating on what they enjoy and makes them happy. I think that the difference between my teenage years and today could be that our children grow up much quicker and there is a rush to do adult things so therefore spend much less time as children. Social media, TV and the press has enabled young people to gain access to some vivid and horrific information which would not have been so accessible in my teenage years. So what can we as adults do to change their outlook on life?

I feel that there are two ways of approaching the problem. The first is by the young person themselves. They need to understand the purpose of what they are doing in life, how they are going about it and that they are they prepared to take responsibility for their actions? Being open to new things and accepting ‘it is ok to be a bit different from the norm’. A consideration might be ‘Would Lady Gaga have been so successful and memorable if she had not worn outrageous outfits?’ I would say, by doing something different has been very successful for her. Trying new things gives you different results and can lead to enjoyable and exciting outcomes but how do you know unless you try! A good website with lots of information around this subject is Do Something Different. If you always do the same thing then you will always get the same result. By changing your focus to doing something different gives you new things to talk about and share, you are constantly learning and developing, your confidence is growing and you are too busy to worry about what anyone else is doing or what you are not doing. Also there is no such thing as failure, if things do not go to plan then just change your approach and try again until you get the desired result, don’t let anything put you off from achieving your goals or dreams. Be committed to whatever you do!

The second approach is from a parent’s perspective. As parents, how can we help our children to develop into happy, inquisitive, adventurous, caring and successful human beings? One of the most common things that I hear when coaching a student is “I just want someone to listen to me, everybody is so busy and they don’t have time” and “I get attention if I don’t behave.” I find communication is the key with young people. Giving them the opportunity to talk about situations or issues, actively listening, not judging them and not being distracted by other things whilst listening to them are essential ingredients if you want them to open up. Trying to understand them, their world and where they are coming from is imperative if we are to provide assistance in helping them to resolve whatever is concerning them.

Positive language and what we say to young people has a huge impact on their behaviour and actions. Do not say anything that you don’t want repeating! They are quick to learn and have razor sharp hearing! Focusing on the positive will help to reduce negativity and therefore increase the probability of success. The language that we use is very important. If we said “don’t forget your key as I won’t be home later” the way the brain works is that it strips off the ‘don’t’ part of the sentence which leaves “forget your key as I won’t be home later”. This means that the likelihood of them remembering the key is significantly reduced but if we were to say ” I won’t be home later so you will need your key” significantly increases the chance of it happening as the brain has been given a positive message. A similar thing could be said for when a person says ” don’t worry everything will be ok”  it makes no difference at all as we still go away and worry whereas if we said “take things steady and everything will be ok” gives the brain a more positive message and success is a more likely outcome.

Encouraging young people to talk about their strengths and accomplishments, no matter how big or small, is a very important part towards them accepting their potential and  self worth .  Most of us are very good at identifying what we can’t do rather than what we are good at. This is not a ‘blow your own trumpet exercise’ but a constructive identification of strengths and skills and recognition of talent which is something to be proud of. Explaining the core values of honesty, integrity and fairness and to act with those in mind at all times will enable them to deal with anyone and anything. Talking to them about lessons learnt’ from previous experiences and what their focus and goals are for the coming year will help all parties to understand what they want to achieve and how we can support them in achieving their goals. It also gives them the opportunity to talk about any worries or disappointments and how these can be avoided in the future. Simple things to us can be a major concern to young people and without the opportunity to communicate regularly can mean things escalate into something far worse down the line.

Anxious young people quite often just need to know that they are loved, supported, and valued and that people will listen to them when they have something to say and that they are considered and understood when change occurs. Keeping routine and consistency at home by setting boundaries combined with encouragement, motivation and positive reinforcement will certainly make the transition back to school a more structured, pleasant and familiar experience.

Keep the lines of communication open, and make the transition back to school a SimplyPositive one.