Could a decent breakfast be the answer?
The news this morning of the growing number of children who are suffering from exam stress has triggered this blog post because, as usual, there was no mention of the role of good nutrition in the basic function of being able to concentrate, broader mental health and resilience to stress.
I personally don’t think that children are under any more academic pressure than they used to be, in fact (controversially perhaps) I think children have an easier time in many respects. When I were a lad and all that… we had corporal punishment, the chilling prospect of being summoned to your father’s study to hear your school report and a general fear of adults. In my primary convent school, we had a diminutive but terrifying French nun called Sister Marie Claire, and her favourite way to keep us in check was to line the whole school up in the playground, position the naughty child front and centre, remove his or her pants and administer several sharp smacks. The slapping of the flesh would resonate around the playground followed by the stifled yelp of the red faced, mortally embarrassed and shamed child. We would all flinch and grimace while secretly thanking God it wasn’t us up there. OK, we didn’t have social media and computer games adding to our woes but there was plenty of bullying that went on.
Exam stress isn’t going away and nor should it, our schools and teachers shouldn’t make things easier as this will do them no favours in later life and we’ll end up with a whole generation of under equipped and unskilled workers. We need to teach them how to be resilient to stress.
So, rather simplistically, I think there are two things we can do to help our children enormously. Feed them properly and teach them delayed gratification.
Children can’t function on a breakfast of Walkers Crisps & Coca Cola
On the news this morning, a representative from Childline did mention that they advise youngsters to stay well hydrated (he didn’t specify water however, which is rather key), but what about making sure children eat properly? I see countless children, not just from poorer families but middle class families, walking to school in the morning eating a bag of crisps and washing them down with a sugary can. It’s estimated that around 32% of children don’t eat breakfast at all.
t’s not just breakfast, children generally exist on refined carbs and sugary foods eating very little protein, virtually no vegetables or fruit and crucially very few healthy fats. Children need protein and fat for their brains to function properly (see my previous blog here which explains this in more detail).
Further evidence of children’s terrible diets is the staggering fact that over a third are overweight or obese. They’re not eating nutritious food, just lots of cheap and easy calories, and this not only affects their brain function but also their self esteem and energy levels. It’s no wonder there’s an epidemic of depression, anxiety and stress among our youngsters today.
If we teach our children to eat proper food, they’ll not only be able to do better at school but they’ll be more resilient to stress and will be set up for adulthood when they have to take care of themselves.
How our culture of immediate gratification isn’t doing our children any favours
Remember the days when you used to hover by the stereo on a Sunday evening, listening to the chart show, waiting for your favourite song to come so you could hit the Record button? Trying to get it just right so you didn’t get any of the DJ’s chat but you got most of the song? Or saving your money to go into town on Saturday to buy a new single? Or putting your name on a waiting list at the library for the next book you wanted to read? All these things are as unimaginable to children as having to hunt our own food or wash our clothes in the river are to grown ups.
My children struggle to understand that if they order something from Amazon, it takes, ooh, at least a day or two to arrive. So accustomed as they are to whipping on to Spotify to get the latest song they like within a few seconds. Or downloading a book on to their Kindle, gasping with exasperation if it takes more than a minute.
Revising and working at school don’t give immediate reward. Added to that the intense distracting power of social media or digital games, which give instant pleasure, it must be so difficult for children to knuckle down and get work done. If you don’t revise for exams, exams are incredibly stressful. We all remember that feeling, I still have nightmares that I have to sit my finals at University again and haven’t revised. It’s a skill we all need to master and one that many adults struggle with, that’s why hardly any of us can diet, but our children desperately need to learn it or they won’t be equipped to deal with the pressures of life.