Professor Caroline Meyer, University of Warwick, explored familial risk factors which cause anxiety (over-controlling parenting; lack of care and supervision; lack of interest in children’s activities; partnership conflicts between parents; parental separation and divorce) as well as peer group pressures (social ties to delinquent peers and bullying, not least of the cyber variety) and social factors (poverty; deprivation). Like Natasha Devon, Professor Meyer was quick to point out the prominent part that the media plays in putting pressure on our children - both girls and boys - where body image is concerned. Enabling children to communicate effectively, encouraging humour and fun, developing problem solving skills, prioritising planning, emphasising the importance of reflection and giving praise for ‘being’ as well as for 'achieving’ are all things that can be done at school and at home to help children to cope and flourish.
It is clear that we all have to take some ownership of the pressure that the current generation of children is under and I confess to feeling some concern at the demands that I make - as a teacher, a Head and a parent - on children. The era of league tables, and Government intervention has put all schools under increasing pressure to deliver excellent results: this has put immense stresses on a generation of children (and their teachers). Parent ambitions are greater than they ever have been and an adult understanding of a competitive world is often projected on to young minds that are not developed enough to cope with it. And let’s not forget, children put an enormous amount of strain on themselves, perhaps to live up to the expectations of their teachers and parents?
Overly sexualised imagery with which children are bombarded cannot be doing them any good. Add in social media, the press, consumerism, the world-wide web, and the mix is more toxic than the atmosphere at Villa Park.
So we must work together to solve the problems.
Allan Foulds, President of ASCL (Association of School and College Leaders) brought our attention to a fitting quotation for the conference theme: 'When I is replaced by we, Illness becomes wellness’.