Exam pressure is driving more teens to eating disorders and self-harm

Child psychologist Professor Tanya Byron hits out

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The Independent Online

Growing numbers of teenagers are suffering from eating disorders and self-harm due to the pressure of exams, leading child psychologist Professor Tanya Byron has said.

In an address to the Girls’ School Association in London, she said she was astonished at the attitude of some parents who were worried that treating disorders might interfere or interrupt exam preparation.

“Parents are often very concerned and shocked at how any treatment may impact on their child’s continued preparation for exams,” she added. “For instance, you may tell them that their child may not be able to do her GCSEs at present.”

Parents’ attitudea can cause “incredible damage” to their child, she said.

Professor Byron said that self-harm amongst boys was also increasing, and that even the children of “aspirational middle class parents” were vulnerable. 

“It is absolutely heart-breaking and it is increasing,” she added.

Pastoral care in the country’s independent schools - the GSA represents top private girls’ schools - is “very patchy”.

“I think you need to have a priority to make this available across the board,” she said.

Professor Byron added that some of the worst parents were those who wanted to be their child’s “best friend”.

“A lot of parents don’t feel comfortable disciplining their children,” she said. “They think ‘I have to be my child’s best friend’ but if the child is not self-regulating, somebody else has to do it externally. Parents need to set more boundaries.

“You need to say ‘no’ and give them containment and structure.”

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