Dear Parents, Guardians, Staff and Girls,
This has been a longer term, and as usual, an extremely busy one. I am sure that all girls and parents are looking forward to the holidays as a chance to have some well-earned rest and family time.
Highlights of this term include us winning the prestigious girls’ Junior and Senior School galas, and outstanding performances by our girls in the West Side Story production, at Hilton College. In addition, we have enjoyed successful Open Days. Despite the contented atmosphere in the school, I would like to address a general concern, which may be relevant to some of us. This relates to anxiety and feelings of emptiness in many teenagers from affluent families, despite excellence in their various performances.
According to Dr Madeline Levine in her bestselling book, The Price of Privilege, ‘In spite of their economic and social advantages, preteens and teens from affluent, well-educated families experience amongst the highest rates of depression, substance abuse, anxiety disorders, and unhappiness of any group of children in society.’ According to Levine, ‘Parents who persistently fall on the side of intervening for their child, as opposed to supporting their child’s attempts to problem-solve, interfere with the most important task of childhood and adolescence: the development of self.’ She emphasizes the importance of the development of autonomy, along with competence and inter-personal relationships. Children who achieve excellence in some areas often lack a fundamental sense of who they are, according to psychologists. Essentially, these children are trained to perform to external or materialistic goals, as opposed to developing essential people and social skills. External motivators drive children to participate in activities not primarily because of the activity itself but because of some associated gain or other recognition. More healthy internal motivation benefits children as this is not tied to rewards. Children then engage in activities that are satisfying for their own sake. It is, therefore, essential that we assist our children in finding activities that suit their particular strengths and interests to nurture their sense of competence.
A common modern narrative, endorsed by media and advertising, is the misconception that money can somehow serve the same psychological function as love, connection and reciprocity, and that we should all devote ourselves to the pursuit of this illusion. This encourages children to become increasingly self-centred and indifferent to the needs of others. Most advertising is designed to make us feel insecure. Our insecurity can, according to these advertisers, be solved by things. Adolescents are an easy target. Money itself is not the problem. Buying-in to the false notion that we can buy our children’s affection, in a superficial culture of affluence, in which achievements appear to be more important than the child’s wellbeing and happiness is problematic. How do we counteract this trend? Two simple ingredients are recommended for wise, responsible parenting:
1. Firstly, love your child above her performance or appearance. Validate her as a person, and not as a commodity who churns out good marks or performances. Teenagers are by nature insecure and need affirmation of the people they are, as opposed to how they perceive that you want them to be. Love your child unconditionally first, and only comment on her performance in a supportive way. We should not avoid correcting poor behaviour, but correction should focus on the action rather than the person. In the words of Dr Levine, ‘We can learn all kinds of techniques for disciplining, but they are bound to fail unless, at heart, we have a loving relationship with our child.’ Praise for the higher achievement can work against real learning. Love and acceptance should not be conditional on outstanding performance. We should rather praise effort and improvement.
2. Secondly, we need to create an environment that encourages autonomy. Teens desire to be seen as independent and capable, in a loving environment in which they are free to make choices, within reason. This can be achieved by giving your children (of any age) a few toys or tools in safe surroundings, and then getting out of the way. It is important to encourage them to manage themselves and practice self-control, frustration tolerance, the capacity to delay gratification, and the ability to pay attention. This enhances harmony, both internally and with others.
Dr David Fassler, child and adolescent psychiatrist at the University of Vermont, says that the affluent children he treats ‘haven’t had enough bad things happen to them. In order to learn how to cope with normal frustrations; we have to first experience them.’ Parents need a clear outline of expectations and appropriate consequences as they help their teenager learn how to manage difficult situations. Over-critical parenting styles can inhibit the development of self-confidence in children. We at St John’s advocate an ethos in which we value and respect each girl as an individual, as opposed to over-emphasising performance. In other words, we care for each girl for who she is. A person should always be honoured and respected first, before educating or correcting her, in a constructive and beneficial manner. At St John’s we believe that every child is unique, as opposed to a statistic measured against an average. We see individual potential and talent in every girl; we aim to facilitate the development of her full potential, as opposed to who or what society wants her to be. We build significant relationships based on values and a strong, Christian ethos, teaching girls to think carefully about their choices in life. If girls are surrounded by caring relationships, exposed to some positive stress and develop a high sense of responsibility in a safe, trusting environment they will develop the self-esteem and confidence to succeed in all facets of society.
So, despite our amazing recent swimming results and other performances, our new facilities and phenomenal Matric results, the truth is that this is not what we are about as a school. I encourage all parents to work with us. Assist your daughters (and sons) to focus on their internal wellbeing in order to help them as they develop into confident, responsible, content young adults.
I would like to conclude with two scriptures, which emphasise the importance of developing self as opposed to performing to external goals:
- Proverbs 14 vs 30: ‘A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.’
- Ecclesiastes 5 vs 10: ‘Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income. This too is meaningless. As goods increase, so do those who consume them.’
Thank you to Mrs Kerry Metcalf who has been the locum in the English Department while Mrs Simone Zartmann has been on Long Leave. It has been wonderful to have Kerry, an Old Girl, back with us again.
Those of us who live in Pietermaritzburg are aware of service delivery challenges in the city. Please be reassured that we are countering these with water storage tanks and a borehole which supply water when required. We plan to have solar energy supplying most of our electricity needs early next year. A proactive approach to the landfill site and engagement with the Municipality via an environmental lawyer and air testing experts to monitor air quality on a regular basis have been implemented. We have engaged with experts in the field to assist with plans to relocate the landfill site within the next few years.
St John’s Festival 3 – 5 May The St John’s Festival will take place on the weekend of 3 – 5 May. There will be a number of activities over the weekend, including a P.A. Golf Day and a Quiz night on Friday 3rd, sporting and Old Girl activities on Saturday, and the usual Chapel Service, Picnic Proms and Market Day on Sunday. This promises to be an enjoyable weekend, and I encourage the whole community to become involved. Please note that Sunday, 5 May is a compulsory day for all Grade 8 – 12 girls. Girls in Grades 11, 12 and the Choir are expected at the Chapel Service at 8:30 and may leave after the Picnic Proms/Market Day at 14:30. Grade 9 and 10 girls are to be at the Picnic Proms/Market Day from 10:30 – 14:30. Grade 8 girls are required as per Mrs Singh’s instructions. Junior School girls and their families are welcome to join the Picnic Proms/Market Day anytime between 10:30 – 14:30.
Term 2 Public Holidays
Wednesday, 1 May (Worker’s Day) is a normal school day. There will be no sport.
Wednesday, 8 May (Election Day) is a normal school day. There will be no sport.
Monday, 17 June is a Public Holiday and there will be no school.
Thank you for your contribution to the school this term. The calibre and number of new applicants I have interviewed recently, who wish to join our St John’s family, are testament to St John’s D.S.G. being a school of choice. I wish all members of the St John’s D.S.G. community a blessed Easter with your families.