9 May 2008

Youths under stress too

I wonder if we realise that our young people are under as much stress as we are?

For one minute, let’s remove our adult hats and take a look at their lives through their eyes.

First up, school mornings. For those whose parents work far away from home, it’s up at 4 am to eat breakfast—usually sugar-coated cereal—shower, dress and be ready to leave home by 5 am. Some are dropped off for grandparents to get them to school while others who go to school close to their parents’ workplace also make the long journey.

The young people then sit through hours of traffic, during which time the parent’s stress may show itself in choice words, finger signals and bad driving.

Some school cafeterias, aware of this phenomenon, sell Red Bull, coffee and tea to perk up those students who need perking up by 7 am, as well as a wide assortment of breakfast options such as doubles, pies and sandwiches.

Students sit through morning classes, hopefully learning and retaining something and then it’s off to break. In many schools, students have two options to ensure the safety of their personal things. They may either walk around with their backpacks or stay in class with their belongings.

Of course by now most are hungry, so they hope for the best with their school bag on the floor and brave the cafeteria mob to get some doubles.

Since some cafeteria staff don’t demand that students line up to be served, those students without big mouths and bad manners may find their hopes of food are dashed as the end of break comes with money still in hand, along with belly. Back to the classroom now, and waiting for the clock to reach 11.30. Lunchtime now, another set of madness in the cafeteria, another dilemma about if to leave bag, walk with bag or pray for bag. In some schools bullying is so bad that ‘good’ students are forced to stay in class during lunch time while the bullies are free to roam outside and de-stress.

Next up, after lunch. In the working world when air-conditioners break down all work done, but here where we are honing our nation’s future, work goes on despite humidity. Or does it?

In a country where we should have instituted a siesta long ago, our students plod along with the teachers’ voices going in and out of their semi-conscious minds.

Still, no sense looking forward to 2.30, because school doesn’t end there. In fact, it seems that’s when the real work begins—a quick half-hour to an hour to eat, run, scream if you’re lucky and then on to part B—lessons. Mind you not one-on-one lessons that find your weaknesses and help you correct them, its lessons where you keep up in a class the same size as the class you couldn’t keep up in during the ‘normal’ school hours. Still, somehow, lessons will work the magic that the school hours couldn’t.

After a school day that is far longer than the 8-hour work day, it’s 5.30 or 6 pm and home time! Finally, time to de-stress! Oh wait, I forgot, home-work. Projects that require parental doing rather than parental assistance; chapters to read and make notes on, though nobody’s taught you how to make notes; and sums that you can’t figure out but perhaps will get a gist of in lessons tomorrow.

On Saturdays it’s tennis, football, swimming, something to occupy our young people lest they veg out in front the TV. No longer are their creative minds enough. No longer do they know how to occupy themselves and tune in to the wonderful world of play. Instead, the timelines and activities keep running and the video world of slaying aliens and daredevil races provides escape. Some may argue that it’s no different from how it was in their days, and competition is tougher now so students have to keep up and teachers are under stress to cover the syllabus so they have to go at a pace and parents don’t have the time or the knowledge of the work so students need lessons. All of this may be true, but here’s the big difference. In our day, we could go outside and play, ride a bike, take a walk, without having to go with a cell phone in case something bad happens. In our day, big people talk was big people talk, but today words like kidnap, rape, murder and gun are the everyday words our youths live with.

In our day, education meant a job whereas today, education is no guarantee for anything.

In our day, downtime meant physical activity, laughter and imagination through play. Today, physical activity means a walk through the mall, laughter means American movies and imagination means living vicariously through video games. Then we label the resulting problems with big words like child obesity and Attention Deficit Syndrome.

I often feel that our young people are like hamsters in a cage, running on a wheel that is spun by a crazy world. So please, every so often, let’s take our adult hats off to them, reach out for them, hug them and say, ‘I applaud you.’

Joanne Haynes