LBO Oct 2017
In last summer’s GCSE exams across the country girls out-performed boys in just about every aspect. This is a remarkable turnaround because it was not ever thus. Boys used to dominate exam performance.
There is a paradox here. Outwardly women and girls today are excelling in the arts, politics, sport and the media. Female role models abound in a way we have not seen before. In sport for example it has been women’s football, rugby and cricket that was the talk of the summer drawing big crowds and media coverage rather than men’s sport.
Yet it is reported that young women and girls are increasingly experiencing anxiety, depression, eating disorders and self-harm. The experience in many schools bears the figures out to an alarming extent. A national report cites 24% of girls as against 9% of boys saying they have emotional problems.
The causes of the growing concerns about young people’s mental health and especially that of girls may not be proven but we can guess at some of them with a degree of confidence. The impact of social media can be particularly harmful and seems to affect girls more than boys. Social media can create what may come to feel like an inescapable pressure of scorn and ridicule in particular about social popularity or body shape or size.
FOMO – fear of missing out – is talked about alongside a growing perfectionist culture that dictates for girls more than boys how they should look and behave.
And yet to a degree fear is a vital aspect of our lives and learning to cope with fear an essential component of survival for us all. The challenge is to discern between fears that serve us and those that hold us back.
This is an area where schools can play a valuable role by creating a safe arena where young people can flourish and learn from mistakes to develop resilience and courage. Learning to cope with failure seems particularly important and is at the heart of the growth mindset idea.
We make a vital step forward when we help students to appreciate a failure as evidence only that “I can’t do it yet but if I persevere I will get there”.