Do We Have to be Mindful of Anxiety in Young People?

young people anxiety

A couple of weeks ago I came across the following viral tweet:

It’s interesting because it’s a conversation I’ve been having with a lot of different people recently, so I wanted to break it down today.

Before I begin I’d like to say that I am not a medical expert on anxiety or mental health and never will I claim to be. My post is just here to explore all areas of this issue.

Are Young People Snowflakes?

One of the fights I am always fighting is the perceptions the older generations have of young people. They feel (as we all know) that teens are snowflakes, can’t cope with doing things they don’t like and are “PC gone mad!”

I get really angry when people say this about teens. The experiences the next generation have are nothing like those we had at that age. We don’t actually know the impact that social media has on their mental health (but we know it isn’t good) – I’ve had conversations with 12 year olds who told me their friends sell drugs to get the money to buy the “right” clothes to be seen in on social media. How absolutely crazy is that?

Their education is also messed up and I’m not afraid to say it. Exam stress is more than ever, with Ofsted breathing down the necks of schools. If the overall grades for the school take a dive, the rating of the school dives as well, so students are cram packed with everything they need to pass the tests. Which often leaves little space to learn other things useful for life…like writing CVs and finding a job and understanding your own skills and strengths.

Teachers I work with would love to give a more rounded education to the students – and would love to be able to not teach to tests! I feel the education we have right now doesn’t serve anyone in modern society.

The awesomeness of young people is what keeps me in my field. Their ideas for how they want the world to be and how they want to make improvements makes me love working to enable their dreams. They are comfortable with people different than them (whether that’s people of other religions, people who are gender fluid, people who choose to love people of the same sex etc). If a man wearing a skirt and makeup walked into a board meeting, you can bet the adults in the room would start acting like snowflakes about it. I’ve seen with my own eyes teenagers being completely accepting and welcoming of a young person doing this.

However, I have written before about the challenge of young people not opting in to things as they are scared of failing. This is where the accusations of snowflake-ism come from, as young people are finding any excuse to remove themselves from situations where failure could happen.

Anxiety and Young People

1 in 10 young people are thought to suffer from a mental health issue, and young people in particular suffer more than most other groups (the only people suffering more are women in their 20s).

The amazing thing with the internet is that people are able to connect with other people experiencing the same, and gain advice about their situation. The rise in awareness and drop in taboo about mental health is fantastic and teens are much more used to accepting and helping people in need than when I was that age.

However, the downside with the rise in awareness is that it’s possible to incorrectly self-diagnose. The best case scenario of course is to get a professional opinion, but anecdotally I have known young people have their symptoms overlooked and even in one case told that they are “not suicidal enough” to receive help for their poor mental health, due to stresses on the NHS. There are plenty of people going around without their challenges being properly diagnosed.

One step further on this route are students who will cling on to any reason going to get out of anything that could result in failure. When, for example, the kid who is usually relaxed and open to contribute in class turns to say that they don’t want to participate in the presentation due to anxiety, it can be hard to figure out whether they’re just nervous about it or whether it’s a genuine concern.

Nervousness or Anxiety?

I feel that young people often lack understanding that there is a nervous – anxiety spectrum, and that there are many things that go on every day that make even the most brave-looking of us really nervous. I live by the saying “do something every day that scares you” and while we perhaps can’t find something every day, keeping a lookout for ways to step outside our comfort zones is a healthy way to grow.

Things may happen quite high up on this scale, and we all need to decide whether this is just something that’s new and that we haven’t experienced before, or whether this is something that is causing extreme effects on our health.

As I say often, I think one of the biggest factors in this issue is that children aren’t given enough opportunities to fail, and that adults around them don’t talk about failure enough. If a young person is feeling overly nervous about an upcoming presentation they might feel worse because they think that this is a feeling that isn’t common amongst other people. One of the biggest breakthroughs I made with my mentor last year was when I was honest with her about how I’ve not got it all together and actually I get nervous and don’t do well in things sometimes too.

We really must open up about our own failures more – especially to young people. They live in an instagram-filtered world and we must break through this to manage their expectations of what life is really like.

What Teachers Say

I started up a thread on Facebook discussing the tweet, asking for the opinions of teachers. Here are some of the interesting points made:

I TA a course which is a communications requirement for all undergrads registered under science – we make them present quite a lot in a variety of different ways to prepare them for the sort of presentations they will be making later in their scientific careers (even if their scientific careers only go so far as their degree). I’m also a little torn on this – I have no qualms about public speaking and think that having these small 25-kid classes as a safe space to practise speaking will serve them well in the long term. On the other hand I know of students who will physically convulse at the thought of public speaking (just as I would if I had only a week to prepare for a uni-level maths exam – I wouldn’t be able to sleep easily in the leadup).

 

Presentations need to be included [in education]. In pretty much all careers you need to present something whether that be to a few people or a room of people. I do feel they need to build them up though. Start presenting to one or two people and then each time they present increase the number. Everyone gets nervous about presentations if those they think are confident but it is a lifelong skill that will be put to use.

 

I agree with presenting in smaller groups as it can be difficult especially for student who are shy and lack confidence. Sometime think it might be better to record the presentation and play it back to the class or do group presentations where each individual has to speak for a little bit.

 

As a primary teacher, I feel that talking in front of a group is really important, and that it’s my job to nurture and encourage those shy, anxious children to participate. I would generally start with them presenting in a group before moving on to them standing in front of the class on their own. Some of my proudest moments have been helping quiet pupils to present and then celebrating their success at whatever level. I had an elective mute boy a few years ago who found the confidence to speak to me, let alone the class – that was as amazing as it gets!

It seems logical from an education point of view to start small and build up – it makes me happy that my teacher friends seem to be doing this already.

What About Businesses?

Finally, I headed over to LinkedIn and posted a short post asking for opinions and had expected to get a few harsh “it’s life, get over it” type comments, but was pleasantly surprised that there weren’t any like that.

In fact, the majority of them were a lot more sympathetic than the teachers. It gives me hope that maybe workplaces will be mindful of these issues as the next generation start to apply to their companies.

There was one comment, however, which gave really excellent advice about mental health, which I’d love to share:

As someone who has had to deal with truly crippling mental illness and has now managed to find a way to function with it. I would encourage students to face their mental health head on. Mental health is personal and they are the only ones that can make a change to it and find ways to rise to the challenges they meet. If students never have to deal with it then they will never find ways of coping once they have left the relative safety of the classroom.

And I think that, at the end of the day, that’s the bottom line. People may have anxiety or other mental health challenges but we have to guide them through facing these so they can achieve all they want to achieve. There are cases where those baby steps may have to be really tiny, but our role as adults helping teenagers isn’t to make things easy for them but to make sure they can overcome challenges and break through barriers so they can progress on and succeed.

Over to you!

At over 1700 words, this post has taken me almost a week to put together, reading up on various topics and hearing from people on social media. I would LOVE to continue the conversation in the comments below because I think it’s a really important thing we need to discuss to help the next generation.

Whether you agree with me or disagree, let me know! (Also, please pin!)

Should teachers let students with anxiety skip class presentations

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