Listen to the kids

Listen to the kids

Last Friday I spent the day at the Student Wellbeing Action Network (SWAN) Symposium co-hosted by Wellbeing Australia and the Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth (ARACY). 


The day brought together policy makers, researchers, practitioners, teachers and – most importantly for me – students to talk about how approaches to wellbeing can be enhanced in schools.


All manner of programs were discussed, some barriers identified and goals set in order to move forward.


I spent my afternoon on a table with six Year 11 students, two of whom were from a selective school. Some of their thoughts we quite interesting to me, and I thought they may be to you as well.


One Year 11 boy said the word wellbeing meant little to him.


Two others said that they’d heard the word resilience so much at school, it had become a cliché.


All the kids only viewed the word wellbeing with negative connotations. Ie. To talk about one’s wellbeing would be to indicate you were struggling with something. This – two students said – meant wellbeing was something of a taboo subject at their (selective) high school.


Five out of the six students were studying subjects they did not enjoy or find particularly interesting, despite being given the choice of what subjects to study.


They all agreed that the perceived hierarchy of subject intelligence played a large part in what they chose, along with the expectations of teachers, parents and their peer group.


They also agreed that spending your time doing something they did not enjoy did little for their overall wellbeing.


One of the most powerful statements I heard from the students, was when a Year 11 boy said,


“Y’know we come along to a day like this, and hear all of you talking about us, making assumptions about how we feel about stuff and what we want in school. But you don’t have to make assumptions. You could just ask us.”


In the space of a couple of hours, I heard – albeit from only a handful of very eloquent students – that they don’t understand the language we use, though they feel it has negative connotations. They spend their time doing things they don’t particularly want to do, at the behest of others, and feel they have very little say in their education.


I wonder what impact addressing these few issues alone would do to enhance wellbeing across our schools?


And no I’m not only talking about making sure kids are “ok.”


I’m talking about helping kids to flourish.


Author: Dan Haesler, he is a teacher, consultant, and speaker at the Mental Health & Wellbeing of Young People seminars He writes for the Sydney Morning Herald and blogs at and tweets at @danhaesler

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  1. Sharon Austin May 8, 2013 at 9:42 am - Reply

    Great article Dan. Sitting at the table with you that day, you have captured the students’ comments perfectly. Good food for thought!!

  2. Adam Heaton May 8, 2013 at 4:17 pm - Reply

    I agree. There were many outcomes from the day – not only what we ‘experts’ say can/should do and do better but about student’s concerns re. being heard – which requires us to change our language and forums so they may understanding what on earth we are talking about! The day was a good reminder of this and ARACY / Wellbeing Australia via SWAN will address this (very brige-able) gap.

  3. Shelly Acland, Clinical Psychologist May 9, 2013 at 11:53 am - Reply

    Dan, thank you for sharing the views of these young people and your reflections upon hearing them. There is such an important message here for anyone working with young people. I am passionate about the need to build resilience in young people to decrease the risk of mental illness. However, there are now so many high quality programs around using terms such as “wellbeing” and “resilience,” that we need to take on this feedback and rethink the language and the delivery so that young people “tune back in.” On a positive note, I am aware of some program developers currently working on just that.

  4. Debra Mainwaring May 9, 2013 at 8:29 pm - Reply

    Thanks Dan, I too enjoyed connecting with the students most of all. I agree with your summary of their concerns but would like to add how little trust they felt towards the adults in school – in terms of sharing anything about their social or emotional needs. When I asked them what would enable them to share they felt that if their student leaders were trained in ‘psychological first aid’ (not that they used those terms) and could lead them to programs that could help them they would be more likely to express their social and emotional needs (they used those terms in preference to wellbeing or resilience).

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