It’s 8am, I walk downstairs, I see my daughter sitting, motionless, silent, expressionless…. She’s got a bagrut exam this morning (she’s 18, the bagrut is the Israeli equivalent of an English A-Level):

“What the exam today?”

She thinks for a second, translates the Hebrew into English for me:

“Jewish philosophy”, she mumbles, her face still expressionless. 

“Jewish philosophy”, I say back to myself – it echos in my head, it takes the wind out of my sails, fills ME with dread, as if I am about to be presented with the exam paper!

My daughter is a hard-working, straight-A’s student but she doesn’t cut herself any slack, she puts herself under immense pressure, allows herself to drift almost to breaking point.

Straight A’s student or not, kids at school, 18 years old, 17, 15, 13, the pressure can be intolerable. It can break children. “What if I fail this exam, what if I ‘only’ get 85%?!” – many kids regard a result like that, 85, as oppose to 95%, as a life-changing result, as a life-changing, cataclysmic, catastrophic distaster.

This question is universal, I think. It is more relevant is some countries than in others but I do think that it’s universal:

Who, outside of our families, is looking after the mental welfare of our school children? I’ll cut to it, I’ll be blunt: there are parents who wake up to find their children dead, dead because it all become too much.

If I could wave a magic wand, now, today, there’d be people, people part of the education, the school, infrastructure, qualified people, engaging with and next to teachers, who work with children on their mental health, wellbeing, wellness. Children need to be ‘taught’ how to find balance in their lives, need to taught about the importance of moderation, of perspective, they need, in essence, to be taught how to chill. Lessons for life, lessons for living, lessons to help our children on life’ transitions, help them on their journeys through childhood, adolescence and into adulthood: THAT’s the whole point of children’s education, of schools, to give our children the tools that they’ll need when they go out into the world. We know so much today, so much about mental health, we are, in many ways, enlightened, and yet our children are being taught in a ‘Dark Ages’ environment.

Children need to be taught about mental illness, stress and anxiety management, about depression, the action of hormones on their state of mind, the importance of diet, relaxation and sleep (Matthew Walker’s “Why We Sleep” should be mandatory reading, a set text for all school children, perhaps as young as 13 years old), sport should be prioritised, children need to be weaned off their phones…

There’s so much to do but it’s ignored – our children are exposed to such stressful situations, it often goes on without our noticing it, work is thrown at our children, expectations and pressure mount, kids are at breaking point, and, in many cases, it is fatal. I’m not saying wrap the children up in cotton wool but what I saw when I looked at my barely-able-to-move-and-speak daughter this morning, it upset me, it frightened me, it shook me. She’s a kid, she’s just 18, and though we’re here for her, though she knows that we are here for her, though she has a great support network of friends, I saw a kid this morning who was, in her mind, all alone. That’s inhumane, putting our children in these situations, allowing this to happen!

One thing is for sure, if my daughter was not a stoic toughie (well, I think, and hope, that she’s a toughie!), I’d be saying that not only is her state of mind at this moment upsetting to me as a parent, as an empathetic human being, but I’d be saying that it’s dangerous, a really dangerous situation. In fact, it is a dangerous situation, we must never assume that our children can withstand the pressure!

I feel helpless, tearful…

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