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Demystifying the teenage brain: an explanation by NAHT’s secondary council member Liam Collins

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Our conference on ‘Capturing the teenage brain’ (February 2018) almost sounds like we’re trying to capture water. 

From memory, being a teenager was hard enough; the raging hormones, constantly checking what you looked like in shops’ windows, the desperate need for music to explain to parents how you felt and the fear of ‘just not fitting in’. 

However, I was a teenager between 1983 and 1990. We did ok then with the music to explain to our parents how we felt. The long evenings spent in friends’ bedrooms listening to David Sylvain and discussing whether the tortured sound of the flugelhorn was superior to the trumpet. The house parties where no one attractive would give you the time of day. The feeling of being dumped at the school gates and, gradually, the whole year group knowing about it. All these emotions and issues were present when I was younger. But, we lived in a time where schools were under no pressure to ensure these moping teenagers were progressing. It was a time where sixth forms were the only alternatives to employment or the youth training scheme. When we went to University, there were no fees to pay, and for me, a full grant was available. I still remember my mother’s face when I told her I had built up debt from college of more than £3,000.

Fast forward to 2017 and teenagers are under exam pressure from Year five at school. Students come to secondary school already anxious about how they will perform. Unless it is recognised, every teacher transmits stress at the students who are ‘not working hard enough’ or ‘just don’t care’. At the same time, there are fewer opportunities after school for decently paid employment, less chance to buy a house and a debt of astronomical levels for going to university. Then, over the last few years, we have had new examinations that are designed to be harder. Telling students this year that the exams they face will not be dumbed down like those of the past - the same qualifications that they will compete against others for jobs in a few years’ time.

Then they have to deal with social media. Dumped at the gates, generally, means your partner re-classify themselves as ‘single’ and 1,000s of people LMAO (laughing my arse off) at you publicly. There are the horrible comments about your posts, your pictures and, what you consider, your life.Then you have the humblebraggers who post about how wonderful their life is and, by default, remind you how bad yours is. The way they connect is harmful. Smartphones make you stupid. They damage your mental well-being. Just look what happens when you ‘search social media and…’ on Google. 

social media and google search.jpg

Finally, we have parents working harder and longer to make ends meet. As a result, there’s less family time and less support from parents. And children are left for longer periods of their days to deal with all this additional pressure.

Capturing the human brain starts to feels like we are trying to capture wind or clouds - the whirling extremes that play out inside an adolescent mind. So why attend?

In all of this maelstrom sits schools. How we approach these issues can be the difference between collapse and success. At my school, Uplands Community College, we have recently embarked on reminding everyone our key aims: happy, confident and successful. These underpin our work. Happiness, to us, is the most important emotion. If you are happy, you are willing to make mistakes, fail and try again. You are able to hold onto key relationships.Take the knocks and bounce back. With each time you rebound after a disappointment, your confidence grows. Each time you pull yourself up, you are one step closer to success.

This conference couldn’t come at a better time for school leaders.

It will help you to understand the impacts of cognitive overload learning, how we all learn and support children with mental health issues. It will help us to recognise where we can help students gain reliance and create curricula that is warm and encouraging.  I hope many of my colleagues take this opportunity to network with these important issues. 

We look forward to seeing you there. Book your place now.