“In the last five years the pastoral aspect of teaching has grown exponentially,” Alicia Drummond says, “and many teachers tell us they feel stressed and ill-equipped to deal with the current mental health crisis facing many teenagers.”
This is one reason Alicia’s training company – Teen Tips – exists. A therapist herself, specialising in working with young people, she feels angry, she says, that teachers are often not taught the basics of child development or given the knowledge and skills which would allow them to feel more confident in their pastoral role.
“I’m on a mission to turn that tide. Lots of money is invested in mental health first aid – which is of course important, but it’s all reactive. We need to be proactive and create environments that promote mental health and wellbeing.”
Alicia likes teenagers, she tells me. “I used to be an events organiser, in a previous life, but then I had children, we lost a baby, and I ended up in therapy; I realised this was what I wanted to re-train to do. And I knew I wanted to work with teenagers: I think, perhaps, because adolescence was the trickiest time in my own development.
“Teenagers get a bad press, especially in the UK. We give them such a hard time, expect a lot of them, while constantly criticising, but they’re great: incredibly loyal, interesting, funny and they really look out for each other.
“Working with teenagers in therapy can be heartbreaking but if you can build a rapport with them, and they want to change, it’s a huge privilege to be a part of their journey.”
Alicia set up Teen Tips 12 years ago. Under its auspices, she goes out and speaks at many schools, but as demand for her talks grew she realised she needed to adapt. Now, she’s focused on getting her training online as a resource she can offer to teachers and parents en masse – and (soon) to teenagers too. Today, Teen Tips – and the name is a misnomer: the weight of material goes way beyond any list of ‘tips’ – offers this to schools, as well as, independently, to parents.
I ask Alicia what she thinks has caused the current crisis? “The pressure to perform, the compare and despair culture of social media; anxiety about the future, the disconnected way we’re living which leaves many teenagers feeling lonely at home – eating regularly together as a family can make a big difference…
“On the plus side, we are more able to talk than we were. What is permissible is so much more fluid – so ‘rebelling’ doesn’t need to be destructive. And the internet has created platforms where teenagers can make a difference: look at Greta Thunberg. Her work couldn’t have happened without social media.
“We have to trust our young people, while providing a containing environment. That is the challenge. And it’s one we face together.”
The next parenting teens workshop is on 16th January. See details at teentips.co.uk