School can be brutal. Congratulations to anyone who has just made it through another year

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Day after day, week after week, term after term, the challenges keep coming. Even at primary school, I realised this was outrageous

How does anyone survive their schooldays? I mean, nearly everyone does, obviously, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t count as one of life’s great achievements. The happiest days of your life? For some of us, maybe. For a few others, the worst of days. But for everyone, in their own way, they are as challenging as anything adult life throws at you. I base this view on my own schooldays, my children’s, their friends’, and the children of my friends. In nearly every case, the kids involved have been just fine, they’ve done well, but I can’t help feeling these successes are achieved against all odds.

Day one is monumental enough. My mummy dropped me off and left me with a bunch of children I didn’t know, and a nice lady called Mrs Timmins. Blimey, I thought, this is a big deal. I got through it, though. When my mum picked me up to take me home for lunch, my little chest was puffed out with pride. I’d done well, everyone said. But after lunch the bombshell was dropped that I’d be going back there for the afternoon. What? And I’d be going back the following day, and the day after that, and every subsequent day for the foreseeable future. This hadn’t been made clear to me. I thought it was a one-time event to be brave about, like a visit to the nurse for a jab, or a trip to a safari park. Nobody told me it was a whole new way of life. I was outraged.

Finding yourself in a group of strangers is tough enough as an adult. How did we make our way through it when we were not long out of nappies? It would be another decade before my schoolwork involved reading Lord of the Flies and by then, even in the absence of fatalities, I knew what Golding was getting at.

The politics of the playground can be savage. You have a friend who’s your best friend who decides someone else is their best friend and doesn’t want to play with you any more. Obviously, this kind of thing is standard, happens all the time, but in that moment you can’t know this – you’re just a tiny kid feeling like it’s the end of the world. Somehow you dig deep into your young soul and find a way of coping. You have to. And this is how we learn to be resilient. I get that. But that doesn’t mean it’s not hard.

And over the next dozen years or more, these massive challenges come rolling in, day after day, week after week, term after term. You don’t understand what you’re being taught. You keep getting bad marks. You struggle with homework. You want to be cleverer than you are. You can’t get in the school team for something. You’re in a fight – which is terrible, even if you win, and utterly shaming if you lose. Then there’s all the nascent sexual politics to navigate. You fancy someone. You get your friend to ask them out for you. Your friend returns with the bad news. And soon everyone knows it. And these days, ye gods, whatever your bad news is, the whole world might know it, thanks to social media. And all of the above stresses and strains will follow you home and stick to you for ever.

Whenever I meet an 18-year-old leaving secondary school, my first thought isn’t how their exams have gone or what they’re doing next. I just want to know that they’re OK, that physically and mentally they’re in one piece. If so, great, well done, onward. The rest of your life might, comparatively, be less of a struggle than you’ve been led to believe.

Adrian Chiles is a broadcaster, writer and Guardian columnist

Adrian Chiles is a broadcaster, writer and Guardian columnist