A huge piece of research across 20 countries across the globe last autumn polled over 20,000 young people aged 16-21 for their attitudes towards a variety of ethical, personal, community and political issues.
The report is very interesting. Amongst the findings internationally are that:
- 68% of young people say they are happy –with young people in developing economies tending to be happier than developed world counterparts
- But young people are also pessimistic about the future. 37% of young people think the world is becoming worse compared to just 20% who think it is becoming better.
- Young people are shaped more by common threads than they are divided. Teenagers in Nigeria, New Delhi, London and New York share many of same priorities, fears, ambitions and opinions. They have more in common than with older people from the same country.
The happiness score for young people in the UK is well below average. Young people in the UK have the second lowest mental wellbeing out of twenty major countries –with only Japan ranking lower.
This is no surprise to staff in British schools and colleges, who have seen a massive increase in anxiety, depression, mental and emotional health issues, self-harm and stress over the last few years to the point where it is now at epidemic levels.
Providing counselling and mentors and other support staff is important, but these deal with the symptoms and not the causes.
What are the reasons for this rise? Well it’s complex but it’s probably at least partly related to the rise in social media, which paradoxically connects us to the world and at the same time isolates us from it. If you have unhealthy relationship with your phone and with social media, if you find it hard to work or revise with your phone turned off, if you find yourself checking Snapchat or other social media every few minutes, then you should resolve to do something about it, because it’s not doing anything good for your emotional health or self-esteem. See this recent article in the Guardian about the impact of social media on mental health.
And it’s probably also connected to the very high pressure young people are on to succeed. This is a generation which faces a future in which they may struggle to emulate the successes of their parents: to own a home, to have a stable career, to live a financially comfortable life are awfully high aspirations for today’s young people.
The most highly examined generation knows that every exam, every paper, every question matters far more than it used to. When I was at school, BBC constituted a good set of A level grades that would get you into a university like Bristol. Now you need A*AA. Exams in the old days may have been harder but if you were aiming for a B, a good student could afford an off day or a bad paper; but now you can’t afford any slips if you are aiming for an A*. So that’s a lot of pressure. And a dropped grade means you miss that university place, miss out on that dream. No wonder there’s an epidemic of anxiety.
The survey also points out that just 15% of young people in Britain have good physical wellbeing and feel they get enough sleep, exercise regularly and devote enough time to rest and reflection.
Good sixth-forms will provide sporting and other physical activities for students to participate in. But it doesn’t help that it is precisely in those kind of non-core activities that funding has been fiercely cut in recent years. When students go off to university, they will have access to highly subsidised sport facilities, gyms, courts and pools, and classes and activities for them to join. All students off to university should resolve to take part in something.
Finally, here is some good advice from the head teacher at Highgate school: http://www.highgateschool.org.uk/about/five-a-day