Teenagers and high anxiety – what is going on?

Teenagers and high anxiety – what is going on?

While I was walking along the beach this morning, I was mindful of the different shapes and sizes of footprints of others who had gone ahead of me. I reflected on the fact that the choices we make will heavily impact our footprints on the sands of time.

I recalled walking around the school a while ago and stumbling into a conversation between two final year students.

“I only had four hours sleep,” said an animated Jess, “and this is my fourth cup of coffee!”

“Make sure you have nine hours sleep a night throughout the next week,” I interjected. “Your brain needs time to consolidate your learning and to discard what you don’t need to remember.”

“You won’t be able to remember anything if you don’t get your sleep,” level-headed Rory added.

“I have so much to learn!” Jess, looking startled at my suggestion, said.

“How have you done through the Semester?” I asked. “Have you been working consistently?”

Jess nodded.

“Then you will be fine,” I reassured her,” but you need your sleep!”

Jess was clearly on a caffeine high at the time, a bubbly personality, yet unable to hide the anxiety. I wondered if she was being placed under pressure to perform by her parents or by her peers.

“At least you have a good sense of humor,” I smiled.

“Sense of humor?” Jess looked puzzled and smiled. “That is not going to help me pass my exam.”

As I listened to comments like those, I began to appreciate more and more how important it is for parents, students and teachers to work together to ensure situations like this do not occur.

What is going on?

I recalled chatting to a colleague who was sharing some Heads of Department concerns at how poor many of the older students were with planning, organization and management of time. One Head of Department questioned whether, because of the School’s policies in place at the time to support students, we were really preparing them effectively for life after school.

The answer was both’yes’ and ‘no’ if I was to believe Sandy, a past student, who had been telling me how many past students drop out of university for a variety of reasons. On the other hand, she had observed the number of students who had been challenging to deal with at school and who might even have rebelled against the system were either in stable jobs, which they were enjoying, or well into a course at university.

In the months that followed I came to appreciate that the very foundation of the pastoral care of our students, following the old factory model, was outdated and broken and was having a limited effect in 21st Century education. What was needed was an overhaul of the Tutoring system which led to the implementation of a Vertical Tutoring System. This immediately gave personalized attention to every student and included an annual 30 – 45 minute conversation between the Tutor, the student and the student’s parents. At the end of that conversation three strategies for the student to work on had been agreed.

The multi-age Tutor groups (with a maximum of 20 students in each group) met every day for 20 minutes before morning break. Each Tutor group had a Co-Tutor who was either a teacher or a member of the non-teaching staff keen to take on a mentoring role.

While one can do online courses to learn what one needs to do to improve in some areas, students need the face-to-face relationships with a wise guide on the side – a mentor, a parent, a teacher, a coach – someone they trust to help them develop strategies that will work for them; to talk through frustrations, challenges and other teenage issues.

The spirit of mentoring embraces the heart-to-heart non-judgmental, empathetic volunteer adult reaching into a young person’s life with unconditional care and either pointing or guiding them in the direction of a positive, yet unknown future and equipping them with the tools to achieve their goals and dreams.

I hope that students like Jess are able to find someone to take on that supportive role so that she creates some wonderful footprints with the gifts and talents she has to offer.

About the author: Robin Cox has been a School Principal, sports coach to National Under 19 Level, Youth Symposium Organizer, developer of Youth Mentoring Programs in New Zealand and Australia, Churchill Fellow and author of books linked to youth mentoring, Peer Mentoring and the development of adolescents to become the best they can be. He has trained over 1,000 volunteer adult mentors, run workshops for teachers promoting the Spirit of Mentoring and personally mentored over 1,000 adolescents. Still an idealist, a cancer survivor of 50+ years, married with two adult children, Robin lives in New Zealand and shares a passion with anyone wanting to make a positive difference in the global community. You can see his short daily mentoring tips on Twitter @million2016coxy or on Facebook (where you are able to join a closed mentoring group) or contact him through his Mentoring Matters website  Robin’s free Mentoring Minutes daily podcasts (each podcast between 1.5 and 3 minutes), containing hundreds of tips for anyone working with young people, are available here.