I worry about teenagers, their stress, and their mental health. When I shared my concern at one of the House meetings in my living room, a student said, “You should be worried about that.” That made me worry more. Later that evening, we talked about the need to understand the difference between when to seek professional help, when to challenge others, and when to offer loving support. I believe we need to have these kinds of candid conversations with teens, and often. As Head of a boarding school, I’m grateful that I have time to sit with students and talk about important issues. But this is not the secret to healthier teens I reference in my title.
I’m currently reading Under Pressure, by Lisa Damour, who is a psychologist and bestselling author. Her focus is on what she calls an alarming increase of stress and anxiety – in fact she calls it an epidemic. Mental health problems are also on the rise, but she is focused more on teens feeling nervous, worried, and fearful. She offers a lot of important advice, including that stress is necessary, it can be good for us, and learning to deal with it is part of healthy development. We work on all of this at Lakefield, especially with some notable programs, including Thrive, Leadership Character Values, and our Speakers Series. This week alone, we welcomed a special guest to our Earth Day Intercession Program, Dave Mochel, who inspired us with his focus on good life practices.
But my secret is a bit different than Dave’s. I was reminded of it two weeks ago at an alumni dinner in Toronto. At the end of our program, we did something new: we sang our school hymn, Jerusalem. Adam Bishop took the mic and got us started, but then something happened that gave me that feeling in my bones that the world is a good place. Without accompaniment, everyone stood and sang.
We sing a lot at Lakefield. Our students shone in the musical Mamma Mia! this year (and there was ABBA everywhere). Plus we have Lorelea and the Rock Choir, and when we have camp fires, we sing Sweet Caroline, and I bet the ‘bum bum bum’ can be heard for miles around.
Lakefield’s chapel remains the soul of our school, where we gather four times a week, honour all religions, carry on our timeless traditions and start as a community, and sing. At our Opening Grade 12 chapel in September, students sang, Land of Hope and Glory. When they started to sing, I thought this is nice…But then they sang louder, and by the final verse and chorus, they just belted it out. We sing contemporary tunes like Country Road and Home, and we sing old traditional ones, like I Feel the Winds of God and Jerusalem. Because I stand at the front facing the school, I can see that not everyone necessarily sings every song, but the fact is this – everyone gets to feel the joy of hundreds of voices joining together in song. Last week, I watched as the grade 12s in the front rows linked arms and swayed as they sang.
I realize that it may be trite to offer singing as a solution to a serious teen epidemic. My point is not that singing alone is the answer, but that teens need more opportunity for joy, and more focus on what is good. I’m convinced that if more adults spent more time singing with teenagers, the world would have healthier teens.
p.s. Here is a bit of research on the multiple benefits of singing:
· Singing strengthens the immune system according to research conducted at the University of Frankfurt.
· Singing helps with sleep according to a health article in Daily Mail Online.
· Singing is a natural anti-depressant and can release endorphins, the feel-good brain chemical that makes you feel uplifted and happy.
· Singing lowers stress levels and boosts your immune system
· Singing improves mental alertness and fosters clear thinking through correct breathing.
Above is a shot right before one of our famous campfires with Sweet Caroline