Exclusive: Give teens more 'healthy' stress, says leading independent school head

Moments of stress help children to embrace the 'richness of life', says incoming HMC chair

Charlotte Santry

HMC, private schools, British schools, international schools

Teenagers need more opportunities to experience stress, a leading independent school headteacher has said.

Shaun Fenton, headmaster of Reigate Grammar School, in Surrey, said stress was too often seen as harmful to children, when, in fact, it could be an enormous help in their lives.

In September, Mr Fenton will take over as chair of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference – the grouping representing many of the leading independent schools.

"There’s a danger in our narrative around teenage life that we see stress as a negative. Actually, we want children to have a whole life, a balanced life, and that means ups and downs," he said.

"To help students to say, 'Over the next few years, I’m going to have a few relationship issues, I’m going to have challenges to overcome, lots of good days and a few that aren’t so good.'

Students 'have to experience ups and downs'

"That’s normal, that’s what living a good life is about – it has ups and downs en route.

"There’s a danger that...we don’t help children embrace that richness of life."

Mr Fenton thinks extracurricular activities can provide teenagers with a much-needed dose of “healthy” stress.

He said: “Some of the best moments of being a teenager are first-night nerves, are pre-match butterflies when you’re playing a local derby.”

“Those are the moments – those stressful moments – that give life its texture, its purpose, its real value.”

He said these experiences were crucial during his own education, at Haberdashers' Aske's Boys' School, an independent school in Hertfordshire.

“I learned more on the stage and sports field that stayed with me than I was taught in maths or English lessons,” he said. “I think that’s important to where I am now.”

This is an edited version of an article in the 27 April edition of Tes. Subscribers can read the full article here. To subscribe, click here. This week's Tes magazine is available at all good newsagents. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here.


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Charlotte Santry

Charlotte Santry

Charlotte Santry is deputy news editor at Tes

Find me on Twitter @CharlotteSantry

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