Anxiety is a common and natural feeling that everyone experiences. It is often a good thing, motivating us to work harder when it matters; it is to be expected that most students have experienced some level of anxiety this past exam season. But for some people, anxiety is intense and excessive, and this can interfere with everyday life. It is well-documented that females are 1.5 – 2 times more likely than males to develop an anxiety disorder within their lifetime, and rates are particularly bad for young women. It is therefore important that we educate our girls about anxiety and its causes.
Clinical psychologist Dr Rachel Andrew has found “girls describe feeling under enormous pressure to achieve academically, some of which comes from families of high-achievers and increased awareness through social media about how tough it is out there in the job market, getting on the property ladder and earning a good salary.” She believes the anxiety gender difference comes down to the ‘Little Miss Perfect’ ideal – boys are happy with being good enough, while girls feel pressured to be the best.
Incoming Principal, Roz Mexted, talks of failing well; giving girls the opportunity to try new things and not succeed perfectly at them while in the safe environment of school. This can be uncomfortable for students who are anxious to do well, but it is important that as teachers and parents we encourage as many girls as possible to live through the discomfort of failure and then take the learnings from it.
Anxiety and fear of failure go hand in hand and so at St Cuthbert’s we actively encourage girls to take more risks in their learning. Our Stretch and Technology programmes, as well as enrichment offerings like the Middle School Young Engineers, require students to look at problems from all angles, applying their knowledge to find the best solution. It may not be a solution that works, but learnings from this can be applied to the next solution and the next, as many as it takes to find something that works.
At Kahunui girls are encouraged to think issues through individually and in groups, with the most common phrase among our fantastic instructors often being, “what do you think?”. Girls learn there is no right answer, they must provide it themselves and when the fear of being wrong is removed, so too should anxiety be reduced.
On some level the fear of failure is always present, nobody wants to swing and miss, but we need to ensure our girls have the tools to keep anxiety about failure in check. When anxiety stops girls from taking part in the game at all is when they truly miss out on the joys of life.
KidsHealth New Zealand, 2016. Anxiety.
Radhika Sanghani, The Telegraph, 2016. Why Are So Many of Britain’s Teen Girls Struggling with Mental Health Problems?