Former Mountjoy Prison governor John Lonergan says middle and upper class parents need to quit a “stubborn” attitude that all Leaving Cert students must succeed academically.
The former Dublin prison governor said he’s increasingly noticed an “overemphasis” on Leaving Cert points, success and wealth, from more well-heeled mothers and fathers.
“It’s almost sacrilege to say to Irish middle and upper class parents that not everyone needs to go on to third level,” Mr Lonergan said.
“Most parents from the middle and upper class won’t listen to that and they’re almost insulted by it. Their focus on teenagers is far too narrow. These parents are so focused on one direction – their children making money and being successful.
“But the problem is their children are not mature or wise enough to see the bigger picture, that life is more meaningful.
“The young need to ask themselves, ‘Can I make a contribution to society, can I see the bigger picture that society isn’t just about my financial success?’
“Parents should be encouraging kids to think about social justice and how they can actually aspire to make the world a better place, not focus on only academic achievement and financial rewards.”
Mr Lonergan believes Irish young people are under more pressure than they’ve ever been before – and that a more “holistic approach” should be adopted towards students inside and outside school.
As thousands of teenagers across the country prepare for their Leaving Cert in the summer – the “perfect storm” is being created to increase stress in the lives of our young, he said.
“Our second level is in particular, is a one size fits all system,” Mr Lonergan said. “If you’re not academic, then that’s it. You just aren’t going to achieve.
The father and grandfather, from Tipperary, spent more than 40 years working in the prison system, and he’s met adult children who’ve gone down the wrong path from all walks of life.
But he has also spent years giving talks at school across Ireland on parenting.
Mr Lonergan favours a system of meditation and philosophy to complement the educational system.
“From my experience, this is a very tough time for kids,” Lonergan said. “There’s so much pressure with exams. Our schools are driven by points and a lot of parents are feeding into that pressure too.
“They’re coming home and spending several hours studying and then when they aren’t studying they’re comparing themselves to others with perceived perfect lives online.
“There’s a lot of expectation placed on our children and unless they are pretty good academically, they will struggle.
“Schools and parents put unreasonable pressure on kids in our points-obsessed education system which inevitably doesn’t suit everyone.
“And many are trying to escape online but they aren’t getting the sleep they need because they’re still on social networks on their phones late at night and all of this is contributing to stress in our young.
“They are looking at false images of perfection online and many just aren’t suited to the points system in school.”
Reachout.com – an online help service for young people – has indicated it has seen a rise in the number of young people discussing stress and many are concerned about their performance in school.
The website’s number one topic last year was teen anxiety and another top issue was concerns about leaving school.
A spokesman for Reachout.com said: “More teachers are telling us they have to perform more of a pastoral care role alongside their existing role,” to deal with the stress Irish young people are suffering.