Pres­sures from schools and a chang­ing so­cial me­dia are reach­ing boil­ing point, claims ed­u­ca­tion ex­pert

The Jewish Chronicle - - FRONT PAGE - BY ROSA DO­HERTY

THE ACA­DEMIC pres­sure placed on Jewish teens by their schools and par­ents is at “boil­ing point” and caus­ing in­creased lev­els of stress and anx­i­ety, ac­cord­ing to a lead­ing ex­pert.

Shel­ley Marsh, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Reshet, which trains ed­u­ca­tors work­ing with young peo­ple in the com­mu­nity, said teenagers need more time to switch off from academia.

“There are pres­sures fac­ing young peo­ple to­day that we didn’t use to have. If your child is in a Jewish school, they are un­der more pres­sure than ever,” says Mrs Marsh, who has more than 30 years’ ex­pe­ri­ence in the field.

She said Jewish schools are pass­ing on the pres­sure be­cause they are com­pet­ing to do well in league tables. “Even if you have a re­laxed fam­ily at­mos­phere at home, when you go to school you are un­der pres­sure not to let your school down.

“The pres­sure is at boil­ing point for the ed­u­ca­tors and the stu­dents.”

Ac­cord­ing to Mrs Marsh, par­ents are also guilty of giv­ing chil­dren mixed mes­sages about suc­cess and hap­pi­ness which is dam­ag­ing their self-es­teem.

“On the one hand, par­ents say ‘don’t feel pres­sured, you should feel good about your­self’, but then when their child comes home with a C it is, ‘what do you mean you got a C?’ We need to think more about what mes­sages we are send­ing our young peo­ple.” Reshet was set up three years ago by UJIA and the Jewish Lead­er­ship Coun­cil to sup­port young peo­ple and in­for­mal ed­u­ca­tors in schools, syn­a­gogues, youth move­ments, and clubs.

Mrs Marsh, who runs a yearly con­fer­ence for the com­mu­nity on how to sup­port young peo­ple, says aca­demic pres­sures are not the only thing neg­a­tively im­pact­ing on the men­tal health of teenagers.

“The speed of change when it comes to the on­line world is widen­ing the gulf be­tween young peo­ple and par­ents,” she said.

“Par­ents are not grap­pling with the way so­cial me­dia is chang­ing the way we are com­mu­ni­cat­ing.”

Mrs Marsh, who helps to fa­cil­i­tate safe­guard­ing train­ing in youth move­ments and clubs, said Jewish par­ents, like others, of­ten strug­gle to talk to their chil­dren about sex.

She said it high­lights the need for youth lead­ers to be trained to deal with is­sues around sex and re­la­tion­ships.

“There are a num­ber of peo­ple who find it very dif­fi­cult to talk to their chil­dren about sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll, and there are a lot of peo­ple who don’t want to hear that from their par­ents.

“Peo­ple who are de­liv­er­ing peer-to -peer lead­er­ship have such an im­por­tant role in our com­mu­nity.

“That kind of ed­u­ca­tion might not be able to be mea­sured, but it is very im­por­tant. You mea­sure it by look­ing at what young peo­ple un­der­stand about their be­hav­iour.”

She high­lighted the work of Jewish Women’s Aid, which has been help­ing to de­liver work­shops on healthy re­la­tion­ships to teenagers.

Mrs Marsh, who has re­ceived a fur­ther three years of fund­ing for Reshet’s work, thinks young peo­ple in the com­mu­nity are more ar­tic­u­late about what they feel, “but don’t nec­es­sar­ily know what to do about it”.

And those suf­fer­ing with men­tal health prob­lems are not al­ways able to ac­cess the sup­port that they need.

“It is a huge is­sue in so­ci­ety and it is no dif­fer­ent in the com­mu­nity,” she said.

“The thresh­old for child and ado­les­cent men­tal health ser­vices is very high and the wait­ing list is im­mense.

“I don’t think the com­mu­nity can an­swer that.”

She said Jewish or­gan­i­sa­tions need to be care­ful to not fall foul of the “holy hush” when it comes to re­port­ing abuse.

“Whether it is sex­ual abuse, ne­glect, phys­i­cal abuse, ver­bal or emo­tional, our role as a com­mu­nity is to say that is not right.

“We have abuse in our com­mu­nity like any other and we need to know what ac­tion to take when we see it.”

Mrs Marsh, who has de­liv­ered safe­guard­ing train­ing to more than 47 lead­ers from the lib­eral to the Charedi com­mu­ni­ties, said there was some­times a bar­rier stop­ping lead­ers shar­ing in­for­ma­tion about abuse with out­side agen­cies.

“We have made good progress as a com­mu­nity but we can al­ways do bet­ter,” he said.

The youth worker said it was im­por­tant for young peo­ple to en­gage in as much in­for­mal ed­u­ca­tion ac­tiv­ity as pos­si­ble.

How­ever, she is con­cerned that some fam­i­lies over­look the ben­e­fits be­cause they are less tan­gi­ble than those in for­mal ed­u­ca­tion.

“It is im­por­tant to come away from aca­demic pres­sure and to do some­thing else, be that a sport, an Is­rael tour, a club, or some­thing cre­ative. “It de­pends on the fam­ily, but if they are go­ing to spend money on ac­tiv­i­ties, most peo­ple want to know what they are go­ing to get for that.

“Some things are not nec­es­sar­ily that tan­gi­ble, but they are key for de­vel­op­ment and cre­at­ing healthy and happy young peo­ple.”

She said Jewish fam­i­lies have changed in the same way they have in wider so­ci­ety, and par­ents are un­der in­creased amounts of pres­sure to work longer hours, leav­ing them with lit­tle or no time for their chil­dren.

“We are see­ing less and less of the 1950s model of the mum as the per­son who runs the house full time and we are see­ing more sin­gle par­ents. Fam­ily life has shifted and of­ten both par­ents have to work,” Mrs Marsh said.

It means that those work­ing with chil­dren out­side ed­u­ca­tion are not “just child­care, they are fa­cil­i­tat­ing the role of coaches, men­tors and coun­cil­lors”.

Par­ents must make a con­scious ef­fort to spend qual­ity time with their chil­dren, she said.

“I could sit on the lap­top all evening and she could sit on her phone, but then where is the con­ver­sa­tion?

“We need con­fi­dent par­ents who can say I am go­ing to put that away and fo­cus on our time.”

Some par­ents strug­gle to dis­con­nect, she said.

“Go to a kosher restau­rant and look around at who is look­ing at each other and talk­ing, and who is tak­ing pho­tos of the food and putting it on Face­book.

“It is im­pact­ing on hu­man re­la­tion­ships.”

I could sit on my lap­top all evening, but where is the con­ver­sa­tion? ’

Shel­ley Marsh


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