Congratulations to all those whose children have had great exam results and are looking forward to the new academic year! However, there are many children who are not looking forward to the start of term. Many teenagers are suffering with a deep-seated anxiety of school and exams, especially with the pressure of achieving grades for getting into university or sixth form. This is causing a serious mental and emotional health problem for our children. Left untreated or unrecognised, what could be a successful year for many turns out to be a year filled with dread, depression, and lower achievement than they are capable of. My own children have been trapped in that cycle, fretting about university and grades, which made it harder for them to be relaxed when studying or sitting their exams and I saw the effects that had on their emotional well-being and sense of self. As a parent you’re desperate to help, but it can be hard knowing what to say, or where to seek out help.
I've written this blog post to share some of my insight as a professional and from my personal experiences as a mum of teens because no one should have to suffer in silence.
Mental health problems in teenagers are on the rise
A recent poll of 500 secondary school pupils, for the teenage mental health charity stem4, found that four in every five 12- to 16-year-olds said they felt they had mental health problems but just one in 20 would turn to a teacher for help if they felt depressed, anxious, stressed or emotionally unable to cope.
My clinic specialises in the mental and emotional welfare of teenagers with all aspects of school and university life including areas such as friendships, bullying, anxiety and stress as well as academic achievement. Last year I helped many children deal with exam anxiety and stress but I soon realised that this was just the tip of the iceberg: many had been suffering in silence throughout the year. I wanted to share my experience here so that parents can support their teens right from the offset.
Start the year off on a stress free path
Many of the teenagers that I saw for exam stress had endured a very stressful time throughout the academic year and would struggle to achieve the grades that they needed. Their troubles, in many cases began early in the year. For some the problems arose when they made mistakes made in their work and they didn’t have the confidence or the courage to ask where they went wrong or how they could put it right, or they simply didn’t understand the feedback given and were too scared to pursue it further. Many felt under pressure to pretend they understood everything in front of their peer group and this prevented them from asking for help too. This fear then began to manifest itself in negative ways, self doubt about their ability and level of achievement set in and became worse as the year progressed as many teens hid their anxiety and emotions, refusing to discuss it with others.Starting the year well leads to a snowball effect of success after success, and the earlier someone feels good about themselves the longer this effect has to grow, which makes starting the year well so important.
Look out for the quiet, well behaved ones.
Students are often overlooked because they are well behaved and make an effort to learn. High achieving students can feel incredible pressure to achieve and meet the expectations placed on them by teachers and parents. In particular, watch out for teens transitioning from GCSE to A Levels. They may have been an A type student at GCSE, but A level study can prove to be challenging. The expectations placed on them from their previous high grades can create anxiety and distress. This can make them afraid to ask for help and they often struggle in silence. This can lead to them being unable to tackle or cope with learning new material: the teenagers I saw said they often felt they were being bombarded with new information before they’d learnt the last lot. The net result of this caused a back-log of work that they couldn’t clear quickly enough. This then followed with poor test results, which added to the stress that they felt, especially when grades counted towards going to university or sixth form. The increased stress made it harder for them to learn, and a vicious cycle began, which seriously prevented them from achieving to the best of their ability.
How can you tell if your teenager is suffering in silence at school?
It can be tricky to spot the signs of a teenager with emotional and mental health issues because symptoms are similar to usual teenage behaviour. You need to take time to reflect on your child’s behaviour now versus their previous behaviour. Look out for subtle changes in behaviour and emotions as well as those that are strikingly obvious. As a mum and a professional there are a few things that I would look out for:
Some Emotional Indicators
Unexplained bouts of negative emotions such as anger, tears, or frustration
Easily or quickly irritated
Feelings of unease
Lack of concentration
Inability to relax
Some Social Changes
Increasing time spent alone
Avoiding social activities or interaction with usual friends
Withdrawal from peers
Negative changes in extra curricular activities
Changes in Achievement at School
Reluctance or avoidance to attend school
Missing Submission deadlines
Changes in grades - often downwards
Procrastination or difficulty focusing on homework
Changes in Sleep
Consistently tired even after having slept for long periods of time
Inability to get up
Difficulty going to sleep
Difficulty staying asleep
How to break the teenage anxiety cycle at school
In 2017, Theresa May announced that all secondary schools in England are to be offered mental health first aid training to ensure children and young people get the help and support they need. But many of the students interviewed in the Stem4 survey said it was unlikely they would turn to a teacher for help. According to a recent article in the Guardian, what most teenagers want is easy access to mental health professionals rather than being “patched up” by teachers with little training.
How can you help your teenagers if they are suffering with anxiety?
With teenagers not wanting to talk to their teachers and many struggling to ask their parents for advice, what can you do to help?
As a parent, the first steps could be to talk to the pastoral care at school and ask for advice on how you can support your teen. If you feel that you need to take further action then there are a few options that you could follow once your child has acknowledged that there is a problem and they want to resolve it
You could hire a private tutor to fill in any knowledge gaps and try to boost their confidence
Depending on the severity of the issue, and the emotions involved, you could seek help from a GP. They may prescribe antidepressants to lift their mood and help with their sleep.
A GP may also be able to refer you to counselling, which is free on the NHS but can have long waiting lists.
The problem with any of these so called solutions to teen anxiety is that they can be limited in their success. One of my clients saw a tutor and it helped their grades initially but it didn’t help them overcome the enormous wave of anxiety in an exam situation. Anti-depressants may offer a short term solution, but when they stop taking them, their problems can return and they don’t equip the teenagers with the confidence to tackle any future issues that arise. My advice would be that early intervention and professional support will eliminate anxiety and fear of failure from your child’s way of thinking. This gives them a great start to their school year which will continue going from strength to strength.
Alternative solutions for teen anxiety and stress
What can professional support do to help ease teen anxiety? In my clinic I utilise a blend of techniques such as Neuro-Linguistic Programming, Hypnotherapy and coaching which are specifically tailored to respond to an individual’s issues. In my Maidenhead and London clinic, I take time to talk to your teenager and get to the bottom of what’s happening. Many of them open up to me about their issues in a way they wouldn’t with their parents. It’s easier for them to talk to a stranger who has no expectations or judgements about them. I typically see my teenage clients for a minimum of three sessions and provide them with their own unique recordings that they can listen to in their own time.
I have had positive feedback from all my clients and in many cases changed a young person’s outlook from extreme negativity to one of positive self-worth and increased confidence. Most clients were able to safely stop taking any anti-depressants that were prescribed for them as they felt so much better.
This is your child’s future, and a strong, mentally prepared and emotionally balanced individual will achieve far better than one who is facing their own demons and cannot overcome them.
I offer a free 20-minute consultation with your child to see if they and I are a good fit to work together. If I can’t help I will always recommend another professional who may be better suited.
Harley Street Consulting has clinics in Maidenhead and London so you can choose which is easier for you to attend.
Why not give me a call on 07888 238 866 to see how I can help?
Your call will be treated in the strictest confidence and there is no obligation to commit. I can also refer you to previous clients if you would like to talk to them about the changes their children went through while working with me.
Don’t leave it too late to do something. What you do now can affect your children and their future.
Find out more about Harley Street Consulting
Harley Street Consulting was founded by Meera Mehat, a behaviour change specialist who is a qualified hypnotherapist, NLP practitioner and coach. She has spent the last 30 years in changing the behaviours and lives of children, teenagers and adults from all walks of life.
You can see more about Meera and read testimonials from clients on the Harley Street Consulting website. Click on the link here: www.harleystreetconsulting.com