Should children’s happiness be neglected because of exams?

by Chris Wright, Head of Health and Wellbeing, Youth Sport Trust

Should children’s happiness be neglected because of exams?The simple answer is no. Not ever, just no. We know that young people today face mounting pressures from all corners of life. Whether that’s at school, with their friends, family, TV, celebrities or young influencers online. The list just goes on. 

Once again, we heard further research from the National Citizen Service, which found that young people in the UK are under so much pressure to excel in exams that they’re sacrificing vital life skills, experiences, healthy relationships, and even their own happiness. Only 16 per cent thought trying to achieve a healthy balance between studying and socialising as a priority, which is staggering.

As a parent of three, I want my children to succeed in life, but not at a cost where they feel so stressed about school work, they don’t take part in sport or see their friends. They need socialising skills, friends and opportunities to be physically active to keep their minds happy and healthy. All these things can help improve grades and wellbeing.

For young people, exams can be by far the most demanding period of the entire year. We know that stress can often seem inescapable and be hugely detrimental not only to academic attainment but also to all round physical and mental health and wellbeing. Yet it is a reality for young people today.

At the Youth Sport Trust, we believe the role of PE, school sport and physical activity is critical at this juncture in order to help young people cope with that stress. Extensive research both from our own charity and partners has proven beyond all doubt that physical activity can be one of the most important outlets in decreasing exam stress and anxiety. Not only do young people have to cope with the stress of the exams themselves, they face an enormous amount of peer, parental and school pressure towards achieving target grades. It is vital they have outlets like physical activity to counter this pressure.

Our Get to the Start Line programme addresses these issues head on. The team of Athlete Mentors, who are current and former athletes across of range of sports, work with young people to create behaviour change in relation to physical and emotional wellbeing. The programme uses the athletes’ experiences of managing pressured situations and developing strategies to alleviate the stress and anxiety during performance; exactly the same sort of pressure young people they face when preparing for exams. There is information about the programme on our website. It’s a really innovative approach to this subject and we have seen some schools use this resource in a really dynamic way to address some serious issues with their pupils.

It is clear that PE, school sport and the physical activity environment are all beneficial outlets for wellbeing. But being physically active can also be a really creative way for managing stress and allowing young people to reach their potential. 

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