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Anxious Generation

Truancy has long been a concern for educators since legislation made school attendance mandatory. Recent Canada-wide data reveals a troubling decline in school attendance. While the reasons are undoubtedly multifaceted, they all stem from a common emotion: fear. In my thirty-plus years of teaching, I have never encountered a cohort of high school students with such elevated levels of generalized anxiety.

                  It is my observation that many students' fears prevent them from making academic progress or developing socially. The genesis of their fears is not always related to the school. The usual suspects, bullying, violence, poverty, grades, exams, and family expectations weave into students' thoughts, creating a tapestry of turmoil and trepidation. However, peer pressures experienced by teens are less anxiety-producing than tensions that come from online social media platforms and adult news media.

                  Although social media is not a recent phenomenon, the intensity of its demands has escalated. Influencers, perhaps initially well-intentioned, make life miserable for many young people. Gender tensions exacerbate teens' discomfort as they navigate nascent feelings that arise from newly discovered hormones. While adolescence has always been a time for identity development, the current range of options can be disorienting. Many online voices confuse young people searching for guides and allies with whom they can identify.

                  Some male influencers' plans to empower young men have failed miserably. Instead of developing tough, courageous leaders, misogynistic messages create timid, cowardly followers who fear women. Based on a misguided belief that females are the enemy, many young men, often labeled Incels, avoid, abandon, or antagonize women too afraid to attempt a meaningful, loving relationship. In multi-gendered schools, the prospect of being in a classroom with "others" causes anxiety in some young men, so they opt out of school.

                  Some female influencers' plans to empower girls have also failed dramatically. Measuring up to manufactured magnificence is only possible for a few young girls. The disparity between the social media model and the image in the mirror can be discouraging.  Instead of developing confidence and self-assurance, some young women camouflage, capitulate, or conform, too afraid to be themselves. Some fear that they cannot compete, and so they stay home.

                  Feeding these fears, overly cautious adults caution young people about everything. The latest fear-frenzy focused on the solar eclipse. Across Canada, many schools were closed as well-meaning adults amplified the danger of burned-out retinas. Many young people missed out on a rare learning opportunity as they hid out in their basements. Our school has simply adjusted the time of our school day. We began at noon and spent the day teaching about eclipses, watching a broadcast of this phenomenal event in each class until the sun reappeared. This approach empowered our students, making our "Illuminating Minds, Inspiring Futures" day a success.                  

Addressing the root causes of students' anxiety is crucial in combating truancy. This requires a multifaceted approach, including fostering a supportive and inclusive school environment, educating students about media literacy, managing online influences, and providing access to mental health resources. By empowering students to navigate their fears and anxieties, we can help them engage more fully in their education and develop the resilience needed to thrive in an increasingly complex world.


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