The revision period is not only a difficult time for teenagers, it can also be a minefield for those around them, especially parents. Knowing how to best support a young person going through exams is difficult, you can often find yourself attempting to be supportive but end up triggering a tantrum. In my years of experience at Teenagers Translated running parenting courses, I have some easy to follow tips that can help you assist your child during this pivotal moment in their life.
1. Help them set realistic goals: Some children set unrealistic targets which in turn have a de-motivational effect because the brain goes into panic mode ("Help, I can't do this!"). Have a casual conversation when the moment seems right, and run through each subject/topic, asking your child to tell you what is achievable and realistic.
2. There is light at the end of the tunnel: Parents know that this will all end, so it is good to convey a sense that this period is transient. Revision & exams will feel never-ending to your child so make sure that they maintain the energy and drive to get to the finishing post. Make sure there is time at the weekend for fun activities like a takeaway in the evening or a cinema visit with friends. Talk about summer holidays and what they have to look forward to after exams have finished. A good, and low cost option is a programme like NCS that offers fun and adventure as well as the chance to meet new friends.
3. You know your child best, use your intuition: Most young people will experience some form of stress between now and exams. However, 6-8 weeks is too long a time to suffer, in some cases the pressure can become overwhelming. If you notice that your teenager is panicky, unnaturally low/pessimistic, has dramatically changed eating habits, is struggling to get to sleep/waking in the night or showing any other extreme behaviours, keep a close eye on them. These are early warning signs and can lead to your child resorting to negative coping strategies like panic attacks, self-harming, technology addiction or eating disorders. If you are concerned, suggest that that you book an appointment with the GP
4. Technology usage: Exam time can provide an ideal opportunity to approach this thorny subject with your child. Keeping in touch with their social group is natural and healthy, but being distracted from work through social media/gaming/YouTube affects the brains ability to focus and memorise. Rather than restricting & dictating technology usage, give them information and facts. They are only kidding themselves if they work for 8 hours, but have in fact done very little revision. Encourage them to use their phone/social media as a reward after the boring stuff is out of the way. You will also be encouraging them to get into good habits for the future and letting them self-police.
5. Avoid comparisons: Adolescence is a vulnerable time when children start to develop their identity and naturally compare themselves to others. Children tend to be self-critical and their self-worth is affected by the lives and opinions of others. Parents must make sure that efforts to motivate ("your sister did well in her exams") are not fuelling pessimism and frustration. Separate out Effort and Achievement and focus on Effort. Would they like any help from you/teacher/friend to keep them focused and to memorise the material? The teenage brain is liable to misread communication, particularly when under pressure. Make sure your child knows where you stand. "I can't do the work for you and I don't mind what grades you get, but I would like you to avoid feeling angry with yourself when you get your results because you know that you didn't put the effort in". The teenage brain struggles with linking Actions to Consequences.
6. Planning & Organising: Encourage your child to find a place to work away from their bedroom. Parents may have to tolerate some upheaval around the house whilst exams are on. It is good to separate out Work & Downtime. Make sure your child has done their own revision plan with lots of small, do-able tasks (hourly/daily/weekly) because ticking the box gives a sense of achievement & boosts motivation. Revision is a marathon, not a sprint - cramming last minute and burning the midnight oil might result in early burnout. Help them to be aware of when they feel bored or distracted and get them to take regular study breaks, go outside, look at their phone and go back to work once refreshed.
Janey Downshire is supporting National Citizen Service (NCS), the UK's flagship youth programme for 16-17 year olds. Parents and teenagers can find out more at www.ncsyes.co.uk.