Just leave us kids alone, please

Comment by students at King Edward VI School, Bury St Edmunds ANL-151025-114649001
Comment by students at King Edward VI School, Bury St Edmunds ANL-151025-114649001
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Dear grown-ups, 
The modern world is rather complicated, and teenagers feel the consequences of this complexity more than you.

It’s easy for adults to dismiss us as a generation of slackers, coasting through school or college, underachieving and not fulfilling the expectations that our parents have for us. It’s easy to say we’re letting them down, spending all our time on our phones and slaves to the monoliths of our Facebook newsfeeds.

Criticism might be easy, but it’s not always justified. You need empathy for our experiences. It seems from the current political climate (see Trump and Brexit) that everyone, across the political spectrum, could do with some empathy right now.

To use a childish platitude, grown-ups need to ‘put themselves in our shoes’. You might find that we’re a lot less slackish than you think.

The pressure of social media is ever-present for us. “Just turn it off” is not an option: the stress that we might miss something important, be it current affairs or social, is hugely significant. The perverse media culture that has been bedded in by the internet does not permit us to be uninformed. It applies the same to new revelations about a friend-of-a-friend’s relationship and political events like the recent antics of Donald Trump on Twitter.

If you don’t know, you are penalised socially, and no one - not even the nerdiest of nerds such as myself - wants or needs that, chiefly because friendships are a brief respite from the onslaught of pressure and expectation that comes with school.

Exams might not seem like the focus of Sixth Form or college education, but ultimately that’s what everything leads up to. Testing is the only way we’ll leave school and gain success, such are the inner workings of the establishment machine. That alone gives rise to a metric brain-load of stress; the what-ifs are endless and profound when it’s your future on the line.

But oddly, it’s not the exams themselves that give rise to the most anxiety. It’s the low volume but high frequency hubbub of extra-curricular activities we’re told to get involved with. We need to do an EPQ. We need to go to science club. We need to help with Open Evening. Come on, it’ll enrich us, right? Just think about how it’ll look on our CVs, right?

Well, yes. But that enrichment comes at a price.

I can’t remember the last time I had a free evening or weekend. I expect the same is true for most students past the age of 14, when the honeymoon of Year 9 finally ends in a social divorce. We work late into the evenings, attempting to walk the tightrope of school life whilst still keeping in with our friends and consuming news and media by the shovelful.

That’s unsustainable.

It’s no wonder mental health issues in teenagers are on the rise. Aside from teens feeling more open about talking to other people about depression and anxiety, we are experiencing a new situation and being judged by an old, outdated, obsolete system that is clearly not relevant any more.

The judgment of adults gives rise to more pressure to do more, to succeed. And it’s forcing young people into depression. The system is breaking us. You are breaking us.

Stop judging by how things were in your day. Understand better how things are in our day. Cut us some slack and have empathy when we want to sit and read some trashy paperback rather than go to science club.

Pink Floyd had it right: “Hey, teacher: leave us kids alone.”

Love from,

Teenagers

-- Will Allsop is a student at King Eadward VI School, Bury St Edmunds