Monday, 16 March 2015

Being yourself

This week's assembly, following the last one on labels:

Now, I know that there has been so much written about the topic of 'being yourself', so many self-help books, and so many people offering to help you 'find yourself'. This is a hot topic, one that many people keep away from. But it is important and while I am sure that the vast majority of what I say will go in one ear and out the other, I do ask that you listen today.

Over the last few weeks, the newspaper I read has been launching a campaign called 'Time To Mind', to try to make the government look at youth mental health and wellbeing much more seriously than ever before. We all recognise that growing up is hard, but it has become so 'true', so embedded in our culture, that as adults, we tend to take the line that it was hard for us, so you just need to get on with it and it will soon be all over - it all gets better when you're an adult.

The trouble is, this is wrong on two counts. First of all, just because of the amount of money spent on 'self-help', the number of books offering to solve all our problems, clearly shows that, in fact, being an adult isn't the answer to any problems! If you have not got yourself sorted as a teenager, you'll not be sorted as an adult, either.

But more importantly, things are, actually, harder for you than they were for us. Growing up is hard. The pressures of finding out who you are, wrestling with self-doubt, fighting to have an opinion, to be able to make decisions, are all the same as when we were young. But society has changed. Things are harder. As a generation, you are more aware of the need to achieve as an adult than ever before - the infringement of media, television, music & movie stars all make us aware that there is so much more for us to aspire to. The high profile nature of exams, and the need to succeed, are much more to the front of people's minds, and then there's the 24-7 nature of the internet, selfies, online chat, body image and bullying make a toxic mix that can swamp anyone.

The thing is, however, you can take control - you can do something about this. You are, in fact, in control and can make decisions about your health.

I was reading an article over the weekend about a woman who really got a bad deal online … she was, as a teenager, just browsing through YouTube, as you do, and saw a link to a video titled the ugliest woman in the world. Clicking on it, as you would, it slowly dawned on her that the video was about herself! Now, I don't know about you, but that would simply be devastating - I do not know how she did it, but she took control, set up a website and YouTube channel to let people know who the ugliest woman in the world was & it now has almost a quarter of a million followers & has given talks around the world on how to stand up for yourself, how to define yourself, rather than being defined by others. Lizzie Velasquez is her name - look her up.

And that is the point. As a school, we hold Healthy School status, and this is in recognition of the fact that we care about your health. And want you to have the facts and skills to do something about your health. And health is not just about eating the right things and taking exercise. Yes, these are important, but doing something positive to make your mind healthy is actually more important than anything. How you are feeling, what you are thinking, has such a powerful control of your body! There are studies after studies that show clearly that positive thinking, a healthy mind, has huge impact on everything else. At the most extreme, a survey of the mental state of cancer patients shows that, to put it simply, the patients with a positive self-image, a positive mental outlook and a clear determined mind, knowing that they are in control were more likely to survive treatment, and go on to live better lives, than those with negative outlooks.

But what does that mean to us? Well, it is simple, and, in fact, links to my last assembly on labels. First of all, you need to know, to understand, to believe that no-one can hurt you, mentally, without you actually giving them permission to do so. Yes, physically, someone can punch, kick or assault you. If they do, our policy is simple - whoever makes the first physical assault, whatever the grounds, is issued with a minimum of a one-day external exclusion. There is never a reason to physically attack another person.

But mentally? That is where you are in control. First of all, you can choose to take yourself away from the situation, to put a distance between you and them. Yes, with the internet, this is harder, but almost all chat room / messenger technology specifically allows you to block individuals.

Secondly, you can report it and seek help. Yes, I know, you are all, almost without exception, going to tell me that this never works, that all it does is bring on more, and anyhow, it's grassing and you don't grass.

Well, let me tackle all three of these areas:

It does work. Simple. Here, we have a clear code of conduct that states that intimidation, harassment or bullying are not tolerated. Any student who feels it is fine to intimidate another, to call them names, to make their life horrible, is not welcome here. There is a big 'but' here, however. You need to not retaliate. To not let the words make you angry. Instead, report, report, report. The school systems for you to report are simple - go online and fill out an incident report and it will be dealt with.

Second; it will only bring on more if you let it. As soon as you report it, someone will investigate, will talk to people, will provide you with support. The people picking on you will try to have a go at you, will try to stop you reporting it, but only to save their own skin!

And this leads me to the last; grassing. As a concept, I do understand it, I do get why it has become accepted, but as a way to do things, it always strikes me as a really, really stupid standpoint to take. Especially if you are a victim of harassment. The only people who win if grassing stops people acting are the bullies, the people making your lives miserable are being protected by your wrong impression that it's a bad thing to tell.

If someone is calling you fat, or stupid, or ugly; if they are spreading rumours about you, or posting messages about you online, then we will act. Trying to put people down in order to make yourself look better is the lowest, nastiest, worst characteristic as person can have and there is no space for such people here.

So, take control, don't let others control how you feel and look for the good things to focus on. That way, you can be happy and achieve whatever you put your mind to.

To finish, then, a couple sections from two poems. The writers of the words are separated by over 150 years, but the message is the same from both people - take control of your life, be in charge of who you are and don't let anyone else dictate to you who you are.

First of all, a few lines from a poem I've read before: If, Rudyard Kipling.

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you …

If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build them up with worn out tools …

And finally, I am sure you will quickly work out who wrote these lines:

I stay out too late
Got nothing on my brain,
That's what people say.

But I keep cruising
Can't stop, won't stop moving
It's like I got this music
In my mind
Saying "It's going to be all right."

Because the players are going to play,
And the haters are going to hate
Baby, I'm just going to shake,
I shake it off.

And if you didn't get it, that was Taylor Swift, "Shake it Off". . . (I bet you've never heard her quoted like that before...)

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