Parenting the Teenager: Helping our children get in the flow!

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Anyone who knows anything about Wycombe Abbey will tell you that being in the classroom is only part of the Wycombe Abbey experience. Academic learning goes hand in hand with personal development. It is the combination of the classroom, the boarding house, and facilities for music, sport and drama that make life here so special. There has been much discussion this year about the central role co-curricular activities play in the life of the School and I am sure that you, like me, took great pleasure in reading the new co-curricular activities and opportunities booklet. This encouraged me to reflect upon the way that these activities are so closely linked with our culture of Flourishing@Wycombe here at School.

A key concept in positive psychology is that of Flow. This concept, which was extensively researched by Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi, describes the mental state in which we find ourselves when fully engaged in an activity. It is the time when our “body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult or worthwhile”. We achieve this state when we are totally immersed in what we are doing. This is normally when an activity is challenging enough to require our attention but not something that causes frustration or anxiety, therefore it is often when we are doing something that we are prepared for, or we enjoy, such as performing a musical piece or taking part in sport. If we think hard, we can probably remember a time when we experienced this, when time seemed to slow down around us or flew by in an instant, where things that felt difficult suddenly became achievable and effortless and when things became clear to us.

When you think about times when you were in this state, I wonder if you were thinking about work or different kinds of hobbies and activities? You can often see pupils in this state when they are doing an exam, years of learning coming back to them and an activity that had previously felt daunting, suddenly becomes achievable and enjoyable! Perhaps the quickest and easiest way to see people experience flow is to watch them taking part in hobbies or extra-curricular activities. Whether it be performing a solo at a concert, facing off against an opponent in kickboxing or taking the stage to deliver their lines; you can see, as a member of the audience, the transformational aspect of this experience. To explore this idea in more depth I recently had the great pleasure of recording a podcast with two of our wonderful pupils, Emma and Megan, and Mr Vaccaro about the School Chess society and the recent visit of a Chess Grand Master to the School. It was wonderful to hear how their engagement with a much-loved hobby brings so much to their lives.

 Listen to the Flourishing Podcast

From relaxing with friends to learning how to cope with failure, the time we spend on our co-curricular activities is intrinsically linked to how we want pupils to flourish. Encouraging an understanding of this is something I believe is exceptionally important, both as an educator and a parent. In a world where there is so much focus on attainment and achievement, it is important for us to allow young people to gain the benefits from a process,  rather than just the final outcome. It is also important for young people to understand how essential it can be to invest time in those activities that take them to their state of flow. It is not uncommon, for all of us, to abandon some of these activities when life gets busy. Making time, even if only small amounts, to participate in those things that allow us to transcend the busy nature of everyday life can bring a wealth of benefits.

This term’s Flourishing@Wycombe theme of Exercise is closely linked to these ideas. We will be encouraging our pupils to think about exercise and the huge array of sports they take part in as something that not only brings them physical health benefits but contributes greatly to their mental wellbeing. A positive relationship with exercise is something we would all encourage in our children. Sport can truly enrich our lives and encouraging our children to enjoy themselves whilst taking part in exercise is a great gift that we, as parents, can give to our children. This term’s Flourishing@Wycombe guidebook explores some of the research into the links between exercise and wellbeing. I hope that you will enjoy reading it and talking with your daughters about this theme throughout the term.

 Download the Flourishing Guidebook from the Parent Portal

Our focus on these ideas has allowed me to reflect upon the messages that I give to my own children; how I can encourage them to make the most of the opportunities they have to take part in exercise and co-curricular activities, how I can encourage them to focus upon enjoyment without seeing always activities as things at which they have to win all the time, how I can encourage them to learn from setbacks and failures, and ultimately how I can encourage them to enjoy getting in the flow.

Mr James Jones
Deputy Head (Pupils)

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