Back To School - Time For Needless Worry
9 Sep 2019
As tweens and teens wrap their heads around new classes, teachers and timetables – not to mention any summer scandal – us parents are tempted to think school kids today have it really tough. Tougher than we did, anyway.
But do they really? Is the gap from our generation to theirs any more stark than our parents to us? Do we think we’re the first lot to worry about our kids’ schooling? Let’s dig.
Given life today is a constant photoshoot, there's huge pressure on teens to brand-up and style right. And that costs money.
In fact, back-to-school is now the UK's third-biggest retail event, with parents in 2018 shelling out a whopping £1.6 billion on new kit.
Sure, the level of spending might have changed considerably but the fundamental dynamics really haven't. For schoolies of the 90s, looks and labels mattered too. Hand on heart, who else was guilty of peacocking their trendy jacket, gym kit and rucksack?
Take shoes - in the 90s getting caught with supermarket-brand brogues, Nicks or Hi-techs was a mega social faux pas when Kickers, POds, CATs, Nikes and Timberland set the standard. A bad haircut was sure to see your status drop, but one inspired by a Spice Girl, David Beckham or Rachel Green was a banker to boost your playground profile.
The rules haven't changed - only the boundaries have. In our day, fashion and schoolyard status were just as entangled … yet it mostly stopped at the bell.
Life online, 24/7
A generation ago, our clothes, looks, brains and sporting prowess defined our place in the playground pecking order. All of the above could be used as the basis for ridicule, rivalries and bullying.
But it mostly stopped circa 3.30pm. Somewhat unfortunately for current students, these same (and more) schoolyard rules now play out 24/7.
Institutions and parents have to work extra hard to protect kids from the anxieties and pressures of school outside of core classroom time. Today, bullying knows no boundaries, and has taken on new meanings given the limitlessness (in every sense) and anonymity of the internet.
No one can deny that the connected life provides youngsters with opportunities to learn, communicate, create and have fun that were unfathomable in the 1990s.
The digital world offers kids a lot of good. But with the good comes bad.
The perils and pressures of digital life are a particularly stark example of where kids today really do have it tough. But it seems us parents are more complicit in pushing kids online than we’d think ... often at the expense of precious outdoor time.
As much as we might fondly remember the end of the school day signalling the start of outdoor fun: unregulated sport, long walks home, or just hanging out unsupervised, we’re not as hot on the same for our offspring.
A 2015 Huffington Post survey points out that 49% of adults don't like to let their child out unsupervised, primarily because we fear for their safety.
With that, youngsters now spend an average of only 30 minutes outside – well short of experts' recommended three hours – after school each day. This is less than half the time millennials did in the 1990s.
So as much as some of us decry the negatives of screens and social media, it seems many parents have a hand in keeping kids indoors.
Or perhaps it's all the homework …
A new pair of classes
In an age where every school's performance is heavily scored and scrutinised, homework hours are creeping up.
A major Department of Education report from 2014 concluded that students aged 12-14, who spent between two and three hours on homework on an average week night were almost 10 times more likely to achieve five good GCSEs/ Standard Grades than those who did less.
So for the time being, big homework’s going nowhere. On top of that, there’s a new mandate for schools to teach more practical and life-based classes, so the opportunities to skive are going going gone.
Coding, money-management, climate change lessons - meaty modern learning is edging out old staples, what some of us once called the skive-classes.
Nothing against Home Economics and RE per se, but while lessons there could be on the, let’s say, thin side, heavier subjects might have students complaining it’s a tougher slog than ever.
But didn’t we say the same?
Every day’s a school day
For all that school might seem like an entirely new ball game, it's still the same journey we’ve all been on - albeit with updates.
Changing school norms seem scary for parents as we struggle to relate to what’s going on, where and why.
But at the heart of the matter is the fact that school isn’t for us any more. Kids are – we hope and trust – being schooled-up and tooled-up for their world, not ours. We’ve already completed our journey. And just like us, our own parents balked, winced and worried as we did. We turned out all right, right?
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