Dealing with the causes of distress.
A feature in the TES on 7th January detailed the findings of a report published by Childline on its 30th anniversary. The report noted the changes that have occurred in the types of issues that young people bring to the organisation. The predominant aspects in the mid-1980s were those that would have appeared near the base of Maslow's hierarchy of needs, things such as physical and sexual abuse. Now children report loneliness, deep unhappiness, the pressures of social media as well as bullying in old and new forms. Is it a sign of social progress that the causes of distress and harm are no longer predominantly the risk of physical harm? In a grim way perhaps it is but the situation remains what Dame Ester Ranzen defined as a 'national tragedy'.
It is commonplace to define the modern world as fast changing. Certainly technology has rapidly transformed personal and social interaction. With that in mind have to question the extent to which education properly equips young people to withstand the challenges of their time. Understanding self worth and the ways in which it can be built and sustained. Recognising that we have the ability to change our states and control our responses to external factors. Developing the emotional intelligence to build appropriate relationships and cope when those relationships breakdown. These are just a few of the strategies that have to be taught if they are to be effectively employed. The risk of not doing so is that the interventions become reactive, rather than proactive. To call of every school to have a counsellor represents a compassionate response to a difficult situation but it is essentially proactive, easing the suffering of those children who feel deeply unhappy, self-harm or live in lonely isolation, but it does not equip a succeeding generation avoid following in their footsteps.
The solutions here are not easy and will cost money but the provision must be about much more than PSHE and counselling. It is about redefining the young person's experience of school, sometimes one of the few stable features of their life. The interactions between child and adult, between young quality of the community that the school develops. These are about ethos expressed in daily interactions and aspirations. A starting point in a long but worthwhile journey.
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