STANLEY Baxter and Jimmy Logan once performed a variety theatre sketch in which they played two little boys in a wooden play pen, the conceit being this was their jail and the wee boys the accused.

A judge asks their names, which they give, and then their occupation. “Child!” they replied in unison. Whoosh! The audience loved the simplicity of the gag.

But these days the joke wouldn’t work quite so well because being a kid is a tough job indeed. Especially a teenager.

Right now, thousands of school pupils are waiting to have their fate re-decided upon by the SQA which will again place stress on young shoulders that are already as heavy as a wet duffle coat.

The latest World Health Organization data estimates that 10 to 20 per cent of children and adolescents experience mental health problems. Around half of these identifiable disorders begin before the age of 14.

The great worry was that if a teenager has had bad Higher results inflicted upon them – thanks to the postcode decision making – the knock on could be disastrous.

One mother of a teenage boy said yesterday that her son’s mental health had taken a real beating. “Not only has he lost faith in the system, he’s lost faith in himself,” she maintained. “He’s now wondering if the teachers he thought would back him haven’t, or that he just doesn’t have what it takes to go to university.”

Being an adolescent is a confusing enough state to be in life. It’s no surprise rites of passage literature such as JD Salinger’s Catcher In The Rye or Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, and films such Lady Bird and An Education, have become essential reading/watching.

But in these pandemic days, there is far more to factor in than the surging hormones, and worry about first love. Standard expectations have been crushed. Young people have been denied those summer jobs that prepare them for life ahead; stacking the shelves in a supermarket, working on a building site, sweeping up hair in a salon.

They’ve been denied that first delight of a little financial freedom, but also the opportunity to forge ahead, to meet new friends, to work with adults, to gain an idea of what life just may expect from them.

Young people are also set to be blamed for Covid transmission as the schools return, seen as little uniformed germ transmitters.

Yet, to add to their mental unbalance the exams situation has been a fiasco. Which raises the question; how important are exams? I managed to edge my way through school Highers and (eventually) into university but a couple of friends didn’t, and they turned out to become a major TV comedy writer and a theatre producer.

You could also argue hard that in recent times key workers such as binmen or binwomen and Tesco assistants have forced society to reassess the notion of value.

Yet, we still need qualifications. Competition for very basic jobs, unlike in the 1960s and 1970s, is jungle-fierce. And short-term jobs almost impossible to find.

What we need now in these Covid times is more of a continual assessment of the fragile young mind. We need teachers who can detect innate intelligence, who are more switched on to understanding that the brain behind the threadbare blazer and the shoulder shrug has so much more to offer, that the extra short mini-skirt and the heavy make-up may in fact be a cover for insecurity.

Thankfully, schools have pastoral care systems. Some, the better funded, have counsellors who are trained to spot the troubled mind and apply balm.

We know we need exams. Life is an exam. We’re continually being tested, graded from our cycling proficiency test onwards. We need to be assessed. (Will this column come up to scratch?)

Yet, right now we need to be careful in how we judge. The unemployment crisis will worsen. Family structures will be wrecked. We need to factor that into those young people to whom Highers may not seem a priority.

There’s a real case for increased continual assessment. Teachers will be aware of a need to have formal milestone evidence, real blocks of assessment that can be used in the future should Covid not be expelled from our lives.

And this system has to be illustrated to school pupils, highlighting how they have to do their very best, yet take all the pressure off one fateful judgement day.

Teachers can’t be again placed under the pressure they have been.

What is key is we encourage potential. What’s essential is young people leave school and become the best they can in the job they’ve managed to land.

But first we have to teach young minds that society doesn’t consider them to be the accused, that it really does care.

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