On the news today, they have spoken about the rise in teenagers being admitted to hospital with eating disorders. The number has doubled in the last two years – http://www.bbc.co.uk/newsbeat/article/32975654/eating-disorder-hospital-admissions-nearly-double
I wasn’t surprised when I heard the news headline this morning. I grew up with a mum who had an eating disorder for over 30 years. I have friends who have struggled with eating disorders. A friend’s wife died of anorexia and my daughters each have friends who have eating disorders. I have also worked with some wonderful young people who have eating disorders, some of whom have been admitted to hospital for this.
There has always been pressure to fit in with others, to look beautiful, to have the perfect body etc. However, we all know this has greatly increased over the last few years with social media. Last year I did some research with young people about who they could talk to when they were feeling stressed, unhappy, depressed. Over half of the young people I spoke to had struggled with eating disorders to varying degrees. All of the young people I spoke to said that they didn’t have anyone to speak to, that family didn’t know how to help or couldn’t help them and that school was not a place where they could speak to people. They all said they needed to be taught about mental health and eating disorders at school, and they all said school needed to be a place where they could confide in someone, find out information and seek out help. They all felt that schools were scared to listen to them, were scared to really hear about their experience and were scared to ask them how they were.
There are so many issues involved in this topic, but we need to start by providing children and young people with clear information and education. We need to have adults who are able and willing to listen to them, to hear their fears and their worries, who won’t shy away from asking the difficult questions and won’t shy away from the difficult topics.
I had a conversation this morning with my neighbour’s daughter, she is eleven. She was outside playing on her bike and we were talking about bike riding, then out of the blue, she said: “I am not looking forward to this week, I have Sats.” I know the girl a little, we speak each time we see each other, but I am not someone who is a major part of her life. The thought of SATS has clearly been playing on her mind and I guess having an adult showing an interest, taking some time to talk to her was all that was needed for her to tell someone how worried she is feeling.
As the conversation developed she told me that SATS will affect the rest of her education and then her chances of getting a job. She told me if she gets it wrong now, she might not get good exams at the end of school. I explained that SATS was the government’s way to find out how good the teachers are, whether they have taught children the things the Government thinks they should know. I told her that her new secondary school will look at the SATS results to see what she knows and it will help them choose what set she goes in. I also explained that once she is in senior school they can change the set she is in, that her SATS results don’t decide what will happen for the rest of her schooling. I explained that, yes taking tests is no fun, and can be a bit worrying but she really didn’t need to worry that they would influence her future career.
What appalls me is that this eleven-year girl is worrying and stressing about how tests next week will impact upon her getting a job. Why are we allowing eleven-year-old children to feel stressed and concerned and worried about their job prospects? Why are we not encouraging them to enjoy life, to play, to discover what they are good at? Going up to senior school is scary enough already for them, without the added pressure and fear that next week they might ruin things for the rest of their schooling or life.
I am passionate abut hearing children’s voices. We need to stop and really listen to what our children are telling us and take notice. We know that an increasing number of children are needing help with stress and anxiety. We need to hear their fears and we need to address them. As a community, we need to speak out against the stress and pressure we are putting on our children. As parents, we need to support our children and help them know that their future in life is not dependent on them passing exams. We need to let them know we are available to listen to them and hear their worries and fears.
At the end of our conversation, the girl told me she felt better for talking to me, and she said she wouldn’t be so scared now. Hopefully, she will go into the week feeling a little calmer.