It’s a huge moment for a lot of teens who, based on their results, may then decide to continue studying, try and get a job, or even consider resits.
So, says Dr Nihara Krause, a consultant clinical psychologist specialising in teenage mental health, “how parents engage at this time can help shape motivation and confidence moving forwards”.
It’s understandable that lots of teens will be more than a little anxious about how their parents will respond to their grades – so responding positively is key, even if the outcome is not what you or they wanted, suggests the psychologist.
While we want what’s best for our children, sometimes we can easily let our own disappointment show – and when your teen is feeling pretty pants, this isn’t really going to help.
Here, Dr Krause – who is working with Talking Futures, a toolkit which helps parents instigate career conversations with their kids – shares some phrases you definitely want to avoid uttering when they receive their grades.
What not to say on results day
1. You should have revised more
In short: not a helpful comment. “This suggests disappointment in the effort put into revision and that your child has fallen short of parental expectations,” says Dr Krause.
It’s going to leave your teen feeling pretty lousy.
2. If only you had spent less time on your phone
Whilst spending time on the phone is a very common parental concern, it’s more helpful to identify what difficulties or blocks there might be in a young person applying themselves to their studies rather than focusing on time spent elsewhere, suggests the psychologist.
3. What are you going to do now with these results rather than the ones predicted?
“Avoid indicating that there are no alternatives and painting a bleak future,” says the expert.
Instead, parents might want to do a bit of research themselves, looking into further education and career options available to their child following their exam results.
This way, they can steer their teen’s focus towards their futures, no matter their results.
4. How did everyone else in your class do?
If your child is feeling rubbish about their results, this focus on how other people did probably isn’t going to help.
“Opting for a judgmental question may affect self-esteem in terms of feeling less than or, if they’ve done better, to feel ‘better than’,” says the psychologist.
5. Exams were a lot harder in my day
It’s best to avoid turning the conversation into a comparison on sitting exams when you were young, as this “minimises their success”, she adds.
What to say instead
1. I’m so proud of the effort you put into your exams
Regardless of results, it’s important to acknowledge your child’s efforts and encourage them to think about the steps they have taken to get to where they are today.
“Encourage gratitude, discourage bragging, and focus your conversations with them around next steps in their future whilst motivation is high,” she suggests.
2. Let’s focus on your strengths, rather than comparing yourself to others – how your friends did won’t impact you or your future
“There is a mistaken belief that comparison generates ‘healthy competition’,” says Dr Krause.
But she suggests focusing on what helps a young person to gain their own personal best is far more effective than comparing, as it helps them identify unique qualities and improve on these.
It also helps generate self-acceptance and positivity, while avoiding complacency, the expert suggests.
3. Let’s consider your next steps together
A problem shared is a problem halved, after all.
“Be positive about alternatives and help build confidence by showing that you are there to support them,” says Dr Krause, “by doing this you can also motivate your young person to look ahead.”
Research from Talking Futures found 65% of 13-to-18-year-olds are most likely to say their parent is the number one person in their life that they would want to support and guide them on their chosen career path.
However good timing and using the right phrases are essential to ensuring this is done constructively.
“Depending on how the young person feels about the results they have received, now might not be the best time for parents to bring up the topic of the future and next steps,” says Dr Krause.
“And even if it does feel like it’s an OK topic to discuss, parents should approach conversations with extra care – mixed emotions and feeling overwhelmed is common for both parents and young people alike at results time, so let them settle first before constructive conversation can begin.”
Here’s to a positivity-filled results day, no matter the outcome.