I’ve recently read a few articles about the increase of stress counselling amongst students. Two different articles, from both sides of the Atlantic, suggesting that the students of today don’t have enough resilience to function in the everyday world. The two articles can be read here and here.
I do believe that a culture of false expectation (within education) has nurtured some of these issues, and that modern society makes it easier for people to seek help than in the past, but I don’t believe the ability to “cope” with pressure is innately different across generations. Ability to cope comes, in part, from having exposure to a breadth of different experiences from which to learn.
Right now there are children doing remarkably resilient things as they escape from war and hunger. Keith Miller (a famous Australian cricketer and RAAF pilot during WW2) noted that pressure wasn’t found in playing first class sport, but “having a Messerschmitt up your arse”. (For the avoidance of doubt, I am not advocating war as a useful personal development strategy).
Whenever I read these kind of articles, I’m reminded of the quote (falsely) attributed to Socrates:
“The children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise”.
In other words, what is predictable is that every generation can be inclined to think that younger generations are deficient or feckless.
It occurs to me that part of the problem for young people (of any generation) arises when there’s no clarity of future purpose. What am I going to do? How will today help me tomorrow? How well will I do what I want to do in the future? Keith Miller’s generation had a purpose thrust upon them, and there are students today who will feel the same in 2015.
However, when I talk to young people here in the UK, I do sense uncertainty of purpose. So few understand or know what takes place in life beyond their education that the education itself creates extra pressure (because education is the main filter through which employment, and future purpose might emerge). If the student generation are unable to cope with everyday life it’s, at least in part, the fault of the generation who educated them.
I don’t consider it a sign of weakness amongst students that they might have an overly narrow “world view”, it’s an unintended consequence of a relatively peaceful society and the “loaded” signals they’ve been given over many years (the “need” for a degree, the system of academic specialism, the pressure to achieve certain grades at the expense of building any business or customer awareness).
Hopefully, those that provide student support services in our schools and universities can recognise that a better sense of life after the end of exams could be part of the solution to stress.