Being a parent to a teenager is tricky at the best of times. High school exams are barely over when attention turns to the next stress-triggering milestone: exam results day.

Parents can end up just as distressed as the kids who sat the exams. The near constant squeeze on prospects for an increasingly disadvantaged millennial generation has ratcheted up the pressure to ‘do well’. Both parents and young adults can end up believing their results will either make or break their future.

Do exam results define your future?

exam results day stressWhich is a nice segue in to our first recommendation: to read one of our earlier articles – Do exam results define your future? The good news (spoiler alert) is that they do not but that might not pacify a distraught teen immediately after they open their envelope or read their text alert.

So the team here at The Spark have put our heads together to come up with some advice for parents waiting for exam results day. As one of the leading providers of counselling to pupils in Scottish schools, we know what makes teens tick. And the first tip, like most things in life for parents, is to plan ahead.

Tip #1 from our school counsellors – it is all about planning

Like most things in life for parents it is all in the planning.

The process starts before exam results drop through the letterbox or pop up on a smartphone screen.

Before exam results day…

First and foremost, try not to get sucked in to the role of ‘competitive dad/mum’; comparing your child to their classmates and setting unrealistic targets. Parents will often offer rewards conditional upon certain exam results. This can be a great way to motivate young people to study but it can be counterproductive if, to coin a phrase, they don’t make the grade.

Focus instead on celebrating what they do achieve. Deep down you will know whether your son/daughter gave it their best shot and if they did, recognise and reward that. They might never have been school dux material even if they gave 100%. Therefore defining them simply by the grades they receive belittles the time and effort invested in sitting the exams.

Surviving the pressure-cooker environment of exams itself is worthy of celebration and reward.

Tip #2 from our school counsellors – is your child a big ball of anxiety or cool as a cucumber?

exam results day stress anxietyThe character of each child will differ markedly on how they view exam results day. Some will be beside themselves with anxiety (again we suggest a look at ‘Do exam results define your future?’ ). Meanwhile others will be confident and assured whatever the outcome.

Talk to them about how they are feeling. Ask them to be honest about how they feel in terms of your role but be prepared to take it on the chin.

Do they feel like there is a huge, scary expectation from you and your partner? Are they mostly anxious about disappointing you or is the pressure coming from within themselves? How do they feel about their prospects compared to their friends and peer group?

Help your child unwind

Discussing this can help them to unwind. It can also help all of you understand how best to approach the final few days before results arrive. Will time spent with friends eliminate their anxieties about poor results or accentuate them? Is it time to enjoy a Netflix comedy boxset binge or tune in to a chill out playlist on Spotify? Or is it better to let them enjoy their last few days of ‘freedom’ before returning to school, starting further education or getting a job?

One thing that is essential in any scenario is to assure them of your love and support. Emphasise that your relationship with them and care for them is not contingent upon achieving certain exam results.

Tip #3 from our school counsellors – let them decide

In advance of exam results day agree with your child how they want to receive their results. As their parent you want to and have a right to know. But this is their day, their exam results and the next step in their future. Give them the space and time they need.

Some kids will want to ‘rip the Band-Aid off’ and get it over and done with at home. Others might prefer to receive their results in the company of their friends. Conversely some might prefer a quiet, private place to find out how they’ve done.

Parents can help by listening and respecting their decision. It is also important to be available to share the experience and prepare for different outcomes. Your child may feel they really struggled during exam time in which case expecting straight A’s is not going to help anyone. Managing your own emotions is important too.

For example, anger directed towards an already disappointed son/daughter will be very unhelpful to both of you. Equally a response of indifference from you can be as damaging.

The days after exam results day

exam results day - successCelebrating good exam results is of course important. But so too is celebrating the achievements we mentioned earlier: completing the exam digest; investing their best efforts in study and receiving qualifications in various subjects.

In most cases your daughter/son will be happy and relieved about their exam results. Where there is disappointment they will need your support and encouragement.

A bit of creative thinking might be required to consider alternative routes to their preferred career. Encourage them to access further support and information wherever possible and options available to them.

Skills Development Scotland run an exam results helpline on the day exam results are received. The service aims to assist young adults in their post exam results decisions. If your child had intended to go to college or university contacting the institution is worthwhile. Their preferred college/university may still be able to offer them a place even if they did not get the result they were hoping for.

If the stress of exams is causing relationship issues for you as a parent – perhaps between you and your child or you and your partner – The Spark can provide counselling and support for couples, individuals  and families.

Freephone 0808 802 0050 to find out more about counselling and support or complete a counselling enquiry form.

kids activities

One thing guaranteed to create tension in a family is the long summer holiday and kids with nothing to do. Bored kids and parents trying to juggle time off with work commitments can be a recipe for a stressful summer.

Kids activities like trampoline parks, cinema trips and ten-pin bowling are all great but could end up breaking the bank. To help out we are offering up some kids’ activity ideas for the summer that should not leave parents needing to re-mortgage the house.

Swim and sprint through summer at a local sports camp

kids activities
We can’t promise your little star will learn how to hit freekicks like Ronaldo…

Local authorities across Scotland will be running summer holiday activities and sports camps during July and August. From swimming and football, to dance and gymnastics there are camps to suit most sporting abilities and interests.

Many camps run across the course of the day. Giving parents a chance to avoid using up all their annual leave entitlement in one go. Alternatively kids can take part in shorter half day programmes or classes that only run for a couple of hours each day.

Find your Scottish local authority website.

Kids activities at your local library

In this era of Netflix and toddlers with iPads, the library is relegated to last-minute rainy day backup. That is to underestimate what your local library can offer to keep kids occupied during the holidays.

Gone are the days of just shelves of dusty old books. Throughout school holidays libraries often provide a range of free or low-cost kids activities. Plus the topics and interests covered are as diverse as the books available to lend.

This summer libraries in Scotland are offering everything from making instruments and writing your own music to learning computer coding and summer reading challenges.

Explore a Scottish museum

kids activities the art of comicsSummer in Scotland’s museums is packed with special exhibitions, classes and interactive programmes. Many activities and displays are free and paid exhibitions are relatively low cost.

Superhero fans can enjoy a special exhibition ‘The Art of Comics’  in Glasgow. Featuring the work of Scottish artist Frank Quitely it includes artwork from Batman, Superman and X-Men.

In Edinburgh kids can meet clockwork characters and mechnical marvels at ‘It’s Alive’. Or why not be part of Paisley’s bid to become the UK’s city of culture in 2021. The city is running a range of kids activities throughout the summer.

Check out our other blogs on kids’ activities including our Top 5 free things to do during the summer school holidays.

breaking bad news

Escaping bad news and tragedy feels like an impossible task in 2017. War, terrorism, racism, persecution and fear dominate the news. Thanks to digital technology we are stuck on a 24-hour a day loop of breaking news and broadcasts from the scene of the latest tragedy.

Even those of the most cheerful disposition are finding it hard. Spare a thought then for the many men, women and children suffering from anxiety.

Bad news and the media

breaking bad newsAt no point in modern history has society been as exposed to or as well informed about tragedy. The old adage goes that ‘bad news sells’ and it has found a new lease of life in 21st century Britain. News media in this country is obsessed with bad news. For those suffering from anxiety it is adding yet more reasons to be fearful.

Anxiety can be summed up in two words: what if. These small, seemingly insignificant words can wield a devastating power. Anxiety sufferers worry over future possibilities: what if this happens? What if that happens? Will I be able to do this and what if I can’t? What if I try to do this and fail? The scenarios are only limited by our own imagination.

Bad news and ‘what if’

Suffering from anxiety means you are not short of things to worry about. The mind can generate a range of crippling ‘what if’ scenarios within seconds. News media’s obsession with bad news is akin to pouring petrol on the fire of anxiety.

Escaping bad news and tragedy can seem impossible. But it does not have to be that way. There are ways to take back control and break the link between bad news, the media and anxiety. Here are a few suggestions from us.

Decide how to consume news media

Digital media has given us more ways than ever to keep up to date on current events. That’s the bad news. The good news is that it has also given us ways to control how we consume news media.

bad news social mediaThese days the ‘ding’ of a news notification on your smartphone can trigger a sense of impending doom. If that is the case for you, disable notifications from your news apps. Or better still, delete them all together.

Lots of people follow news channels on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Consider unfollowing them and taking a break. A sort of mini digital detox can be helpful, particularly if the news is being dominated by a particular bad news story.

Finally, if a tragedy has occurred consider whether it is good for you to spend time consuming news media at all. Anxiety sufferers can benefit from a self-imposed news blackout. That means avoiding bulletins, staying off 24 hour news channels and taking a break from social media.

Bad news will always exist in the world but that does not mean you are obligated to hear it, see it or read about it.

Seek out good news

Mainstream media or MSM as it has become known as on social media, sticks rigidly to the mantra that ‘bad news sells’. Suffering from anxiety and keeping up to date on the news can become a toxic combination.

Though it might be hard to believe there are sources of good news out there. Have a look at websites like Good News Network, Positive News and the ‘Good News’ section of Huffington Post. Each one covers good news stories that rarely get a mention on mainstream media.

When the news feels like one bad news story after another, visit these sites and read, watch and listen to stories of care, love, selflessness and compassion.

Look at the flip side of bad news

bad news good newsA tragic event can define and scar a date permanently. Mainstream media’s coverage of such events leads us to believe that nothing but hate, destruction and pain happened that day. That is fundamentally untrue but it can be hard to see beyond the sensationalist headlines.

The same day that a small number of people sought to spread fear and hate, couples were falling in love for the first time. Babies were being born to delighted parents. Strangers were starting down the road of lifelong friendship. That same day a tragic accident occurred, cancer patients were given the all-clear and scientists made breakthroughs in curing diseases.

It may not seem like it but there is a lot of good news in the world to celebrate. Besides the media’s obsession with bad news, such tragic events dominate the headlines because they are rare. Taking the time to move your point of focus away from infrequent tragedies can be really beneficial.

Here to help with anxiety and worry

Coping with anxiety can leave you feeling alone and isolated. Anxiety often causes sufferers to become insular and withdrawn from relationships with loved ones and friends. If you are suffering from anxiety The Spark can provide support and counselling to help you address the issue.

Speaking to a professional counsellor offers an impartial and safe way of starting to deal with your anxiety issues. To find out more and to book a counselling appointment freephone 0808 802 0050. Alternatively complete an online enquiry form and our team will be in touch.

life hacks

In the final part of our life hacks series we are looking at how doing what you are good at, keeping in touch and asking for help can set you on the path to good mental health.

Catch up on part 1 and part 2 of the life hacks series.

Life hacks number 7 – Do things you are good at

life hacks - do something you are good at and enjoy
Good at cooking? Cook lots.

These days it feels like criticism is more common than praise. As a society we celebrate a child doing anything well but once they hit adulthood we seem to flick the switch from bravo to blame. Thereafter it is a life of appraisals, 360 degree feedback and assessments – which all tend to focus on what you are not doing well.

None of that is good for our mental health. A simple life hack to improve that situation is to spend as much time as you can doing things you are good at.

It might not be something celebrity websites or Instagram suggest we should be good at, but that does not devalue it. In fact it probably makes it more valuable. Good at cooking? Cook and enjoy preparing a great meal for yourself or others. Green fingered? Fill your home with blooming plants or help a neighbour who kills cactuses. Good at building Lego kits? Build a Lego kit.  You get the idea.

There may be 101 things you are not particularly great at but there will be at least 1 (and usually more) that you are good at. Find it and do it. And do it lots.

Life hacks number 8 – Keep in touch

Humans were made to interact with each other. Relationships are fundamental to our wellbeing and mental health. Scientific research has proven that interaction with other humans keeps us healthier and happier.

Life hacks - spend time with people who are good for you
Spend time with people who are good for you

Isolation can be a cause of poor mental health. It can also be a symptom of poor mental health if we deliberately choose to isolate ourselves. That is why keeping in touch, keeping in contact is so important.

Keep in touch with friends and family, particularly the ones who are good for you. You know who they are: the people that make you feel good about yourself, have you laughing and leave a smile on your face. Instead of getting sucked in to the trends of communicating only via WhatsApp or text, do something radical with your smartphone and call them. Better still call them to arrange a time to meet up in person.

It is easy to slip in to a mind-set that ‘no one is interested’ in you if the mobile is not ringing. Instead flip it around and consider that a friend could be sitting at home thinking exactly the same thing. Give them a call, get together and you will both feel better.

Life hacks number 9 – Ask for help

A particularly Scottish trait is to soldier on, suck it up and push through difficult times. Self-reliance and resilience are good skills to develop. But not when they begin to harm your mental health and wellbeing.

life hacks - keep calm and carry on
Keep calm and carry on: not always the best option…

Stubbornness is probably up there with soldiering on as a famous Scottish trait. It often manifests itself as an unwillingness to ask for help when we know deep down, that we really need it. Meaning we try to fix relationship problems and struggles with mental health ourselves.

There are problems we cannot solve ourselves, despite our best efforts. Unless you are a qualified plumber you will not be able to fix a broken boiler. So why would we expect to solve significant life issues ourselves with no help or support?

Asking for help is not a sign of weakness in mind or spirit. It is a demonstration of strength and intelligence. The Spark is an organisation ready to help with the big life issues and challenges we all face. Through counselling or just discussing a problem on our free Relationship Helpline, you can confidentially begin to address the issues causing unhappiness in your life.

Speak to our counselling enquiry team on 0808 802 0050 or complete an online enquiry.

Find out more about the free Relationship Helpline and our services for couples, individuals and families.

life hacks listen to relaxing music

Welcome to part 2 of The Spark’s life hacks for mental health series. This time we are looking at how getting active, putting the cork back in the bottle and looking out for others can boost mental health.

Catch up on part 1 of the life hacks series – covering healthy eating, slowing life down and talking about your concerns.

Life hacks number 4 – Care for others

It might not seem particularly intuitive but a simple way to boost your own mental health is to care for someone else. Previously we looked at the idiom ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’ and its scientific foundation. Taking a different perspective, offering to help a friend with a problem can be almost as rewarding.

life hacks be a listener and help a friend instead of focusing on yourselfThere is little doubt that sharing wisdom, expertise or previous experience to benefit someone else creates a natural ‘high’. Being the listener/helper can also bring you closer to your friend/loved one and boost your own self-esteem as you help them tackle a problem. Furthermore it provides the opportunity to put our own struggles in context and offer perspective on our individual life challenges.

And it does not need to be another human. A pet can create a strong bond similar to one between humans. The opportunity to care for another living creature plus the structure of a daily routine can be hugely beneficial.

Life hacks number 5 – Get active

A little bit of exercise can go a long way towards improving mental health. There are in fact pages and pages of research documenting the benefits of exercise in terms of mental health and wellbeing.

Issues like depression, stress, anxiety and low self-esteem can all be helped by getting active. The best news is that we do not need to be exercising like an Olympic athlete to feel the benefit. As little as 10-15 minutes exercise per day like a brisk walk or swimming can help you achieve the recommended level of physical activity.

Physical activity can be anything that gets us moving and expends energy. That means making even simple changes like walking to the shop instead of taking the car can make a difference. Exercise provides opportunities for human interaction too – like going for a walk with a friend – and exposure to new activities (e.g. trying a new sport) which help boost wellbeing.

Life hacks number 6 – Be sensible about alcohol

Alcohol is a depressant – a substance that disrupts the balance of chemicals in the brain that determine our mood and personality. In small quantities alcohol can create feelings of increased confidence and reduced anxiety. However over time alcohol lowers our mood and it can increase feelings of anxiety and depression. This is due to it decreasing levels of the chemical serotonin in the brain – the substance that regulates mood.

A simple way to give your mood a boost is to limit your intake of alcohol. You can do this by reducing your typical consumption of alcohol or scheduling in alcohol-free days. These can help reduce the chance of your body building a tolerance to alcohol – basically having to drink more alcohol to achieve the same effects.

life hacks put the cork back in the bottleAlcohol and stress-relief

If you use alcohol as a stress-reliever, try to substitute it occasionally for alternative methods of relieving stress. Do some physical activity, meditation, breathing exercises or listen to calming music instead. Another great option is to talk to someone about the issues that are creating feelings of stress for you.

Talking to a trusted friend or loved one can be very beneficial. Sometimes however is not practical or the issue is something you do not feel comfortable talking to them about. In those circumstances speaking to a counsellor can be great solution. It allows you to talk to a skilled, impartial and non-judgemental expert who can help you tackle the issues causing stress. Find out more about counselling and support services available from The Spark.

In the final part of our series we will be looking at how reaching out to others, finding your talent and keeping connected can boost mental health.

Remember you can catch up on part 1 of the series and read our first 3 life hacks.

life hacks for better mental health - eat well

Mental health is just as important as physical health. Most of the time we try to keep our bodies healthy because we know it makes us feel better about ourselves and helps lower the risk of illnesses like heart disease and diabetes. Whilst we are busy pursuing the body beautiful our mental health can be something of an afterthought (or no thought at all).

In part 1 of a 3 part series we are offering up some practical life hacks you can use to boost your mental health. First up we are looking at how slowing things down, opening up about your feelings and eating well can help.

Life hacks number 1 – Slow things down

Modern life is fast. Simply keeping up can feel like an exhausting and endless task. We are encouraged to multi-task, work on the move and squeeze something out of every minute of every day.

life hacks for mental healthWith lots to do and lots to remember it is no surprise that our minds can feel like they are overloaded and overwhelmed. Many of us talk about ‘spinning plates’ and having ‘no head space’ to deal with anything new.

Our minds, just like our bodies, need to slow down from time to time. No one can sprint at their fastest indefinitely and neither can our minds. Ideally we need to set aside time to stop and rest our minds. By reading, meditating, going for a walk/exercising or just listening to music.

If you feel like you do not have time to stop and rest, try to slow things down. Focus on one task at a time and do it slowly and deliberately, taking your time. Commit to considering other thoughts only once you have finished the task in hand.  You will end up more productive and your mind will thank you for the chance to run at a slower pace.

Life hacks number 2 – Talk to someone about your feelings

It seems an obvious piece of advice but in practice it is a tricky thing to do. We are surrounded by images and messages about sucking it up, getting on with it and people pretending to play the world’s tinniest violin. Saying to someone that you are not feeling great mentally is a big challenge.

life hacks for good mental healthThe idiom ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’ is based in truth and fact. Sharing with someone opens up the chance to learn from their experiences and receive an empathetic response. Often it can lead to offers of help and support in the issue you are struggling with. Research has shown that the simple act of talking to someone about a problem reduces stress levels in the body.

Here at The Spark we can help by providing opportunities to talk about your feelings and the issues that are troubling you. Sometimes it is not possible or wise to discuss them with a friend or loved one. A counsellor is an impartial and skilled professional that is able to support individuals, couples and families through difficult times.

Find out more about counselling for individuals, couples and families. Make a counselling enquiry online or telephone 0808 802 0050.

Life hacks number 3 – Eat healthily

You are what you eat as the saying goes and this is definitely the case for mental health. Eating well is often overlooked as a way to help improve mental health. Research has shown that nutrition is just as important for mental health as it is for physical health.

Life hacks for good mental healthIt is easy when we are stressed, busy, tired or just struggling a bit to fill up on snacks and sugary ‘treats’. Compared with eating a healthy, balanced diet this leads to temporary sugar ‘shocks’ to our bodies. Thus follows a short term boost before a sudden drop in blood sugar levels leaving us feeling all the same feelings again.

Whilst eating well is not a single solution for mental health issues it can be a practical way to enhance our mood. Particularly when used in conjunction with other things like counselling and regular exercise. So ditch the chocolate and fizzy drinks in favour of fruit, vegetables and proper meals. Read more about healthy eating and nutrition.

In part 2 of our Life hacks for better mental health we will be looking at how being active, putting the cork back in the booze and looking out for others can boost our mental health.

relationship issues

Holidays are important. Especially since we only get a few each year. They can be fabulous times packed with great memories we will cherish forever. Whether we get to enjoy some family fun over Easter or a summer vacation, holidays are one of the biggest (if not the biggest) motivation for working 9 to 5.

But at the end of them, The Spark often sees an increase in demand for counselling and support services. Why? In modern society holidays highlight relationship issues. It’s that simple.

Relationships, holidays and unrealistic expectations

exhausted by relationship issuesTo start with we often have unrealistic expectations. We pack everything we want to accomplish in to our time off whether it is a realistic ‘to do’ list or not. Important things are put on hold until time off in the hope of finding time or even just headspace to deal with them. We do DIY, daytrips, visit family, try to broaden our minds, get some sun and keep the kids occupied. Basically we compete to see who can be the busiest or do the most with our time off.

Related article – Can we ‘cram’ our relationships?

On top of all of this we are bombarded with messages and images that suggest everyone is having a great time during Easter/summer/Christmas and so should we. Is it any wonder that come the end of our time off we are exhausted, disappointed and angry?

Our relationships take a battering as a result. Couples feel the tension, families fight and tempers flare. Unrealistic expectations do their damage but holidays tend to highlight something more significant: underlying relationship issues that have been left unchecked.

Relationship issues rarely fix themselves

relationship issues fighting in front of the children

There is often a common thread running through the backgrounds of couples reaching out to us for help. Specifically that they had ‘put off’ having difficult conversations. Conversations about starting a family, finances or what they wanted from the relationship never took place. Instead many couples simply crossed their fingers and hoped time off work together or a vacation would ‘fix’ their relationship problems somehow.

Many of the really important relationship issues in life are highly emotional. As a result we naturally tend to avoid them. But they do not go away when we take time off. Strangely we often know this deep down but still find it difficult to start that conversation.

Sometimes a vacation or dedicated time together can fix things in a relationship but underlying problems rarely sort themselves. Leaving them unchecked can lead to further problems with resentment and bitterness. Ultimately eating away at a relationship that is already under strain.

Take action to address relationship issues

There will be underlying relationship issues for any couple. The key is to avoid putting them on hold. Instead take time to reflect upon where you and your partner stand on those issues. Naturally there is a reticence in raising the subject for fear of upsetting or even scaring our loved one away. But talking about it honestly and calmly can represent a big step towards a solution. Only when a couple are communicating on these key issues can they find a way forward.

The alternative option – to leave them to grow and fester – is, in our experience, a far worse option.

Relationship help from The Spark

If you feel like starting that conversation is too difficult on your own, The Spark can help. Our whole purpose is to help individuals, couples and families make their relationships work. Talk to us on freephone 0808 802 0050 or make an enquiry online to find out how we can help.

And when it comes to planning what to do during the Easter, summer or Christmas holidays remember that it is ok to leave time unallocated. The house and garden – much like the Forth Rail Bridge – will always need maintaining no matter how much you do. By contrast we have precious few holidays each year to do the things we love with the ones we love.

Teenager mobile sexting

Raising children in the digital age brings with it a host of challenges previous generations never faced. One such high profile and extremely distressing issue – sexting – features in the final series of ITV’s Broadchurch drama.

Spoiler alert

Broadchurch series 3 features sexting(If you are yet to watch series 3 of Broadchurch and want to be kept in suspense, head back to our blog page!)

A significant sub-plot in series 3 has revolved around the difficult subjects of sexting and revenge porn. David Tennant’s DI Alec Hardy is faced with a revelation that his daughter Daisy has been ‘sexting’. As a result she has been subject to an act of revenge porn: an explicit image of her has been shared without her permission online. Hardy’s reaction is what you would expect of any parent: anger, confusion and extreme concern.

Sexting is an issue that is fast becoming a common problem. As the lives of young people become ever more embedded in social media, its significance and the number of incidences will only increase. This is perhaps why the issue has been deftly woven in to the storyline of Broadchurch. All of which of course begs an important question: how can parents protect their kids from sexting?

Sexting advice for parents

Revenge porn typically – but not exclusively – occurs following the breakdown of a relationship. During that relationship ‘sexting’* – the sharing of explicit images/video/text via online messaging tools or apps – has occurred.  The content is then used against the former partner.

Online shaming is sadly becoming mainstream. Consequently new legislation in England and Wales has come in to force with Scotland following suit this year.

Sexting and how to protect your child

Best practice suggests that parents need to be taking a proactive approach. As with drugs and alcohol, the best form of defence is to proactively educate children about issues like sexting before they become a part of a child’s relationships.

1. Speak openly and as early as possible

Speak to your children openly about sexual issues, including sexting. Yes it is uncomfortable and awkward. Undoubtedly part of you will feel that your child is ‘too young’ to be exposed to such issues. Sadly if you do not educate them someone else will. Or they will turn to unfiltered sources on the Internet or their peer group for answers.

2. Never assume “it’ll never happen to them”

Be careful not to simply assume ‘my son/daughter’ would never do that. Peer pressure in particular can be immensely powerful. We can all remember the pressure to ‘fit in’ at school and sexting is now just another way for young people to experience that pressure.  Just as many parents assumed incorrectly that their children would never drink alcohol under age or take drugs, the same must apply to these emerging issues.

3. Talk about the emotional and legal implications of sexting

Teenager mobile sexting

Discuss the risks associated with sexting and revenge porn. Encourage them to think about how they would feel if an image of them was shared at school/ amongst their circle of friends. Ask them to consider whether the hurt and embarrassment of this happening is worth taking the risk in the first place.

It is important also to be clear about the legal implications of, for example, exchanging explicit images. Many 15 and 16 year olds today will be unaware that possessing explicit images of their boyfriend/girlfriend is illegal. The law is clear on this matter and it still applies even if the individual in possession of the image(s) is over 18 but their partner is not.

4. Do they know who they are sharing with online?

Talk about the importance of really knowing who they are sharing information with online. That goes for personal information about them as much as images. Again it will be a difficult subject to handle but it is important to talk openly and honestly about issues like grooming, sexual exploitation and paedophilia.

5. Give them someone to talk to

sextingSpecifically in terms of who the child can talk to about such issues. It may be that speaking to mum or dad regularly about these issues is too uncomfortable. In that case look for a suitable substitute like a trusted member of the family or an older cousin/family friend. It is critical however that they are fully aware of your perspective, educated about the risks and perhaps even able to offer cautionary stories from their own peer group.

Overarching all of these practical tips is a core belief about what makes a good relationship. As a society we want to give our children the understanding that a loving relationship does not require or depend upon the sharing of explicit content. We want to be instilling in them the belief that a good relationship is built upon self-respect and a respect and care for each other. Not the fear, power and control that can come from sharing explicit images.

My child has been sexting

If your child has been involved in sexting or sexting that has resulted in revenge porn/ threat of revenge porn, there is lots of additional advice online.

Young Scot, the NSPCC and ChildLine offer good online resources. Information includes how to get images removed if they have been shared on social network sites like Facebook or Twitter. Plus further advice on keeping children safe online.

*Sexting can also be known as ‘pic for pic’, ‘dirties’, ‘sending nudes’ or ‘trading nudes’.

Tips for parents during exams - a bit of mess is allowed

Exam time can be as stressful for parents as it is for students. The normal teenage angst that leads to tension in the household cranks up a few notches during exam preparation. Indeed many parents will recall attempts to ‘help’ their stressed-out teen that are interpreted as an act of war worthy of Michael Howard.

As we enter exam time for high school, college and university students, The Spark has pulled together our tips for parents during exams.

Tips for parents during exams

1. Don’t sweat the small stuff

Tips for parents during exams - a bit of mess is allowed

Consider the build-up to and during exams as an amnesty on issues that would typically cause some friction. Bedrooms might be messier than usual. Chores might be forgotten. But all of that is ok.

It is easy for parents during exams to revert back to the normal habit of badgering their teenager in to action. By easing off on the usual household duties you will however be giving your child more time and space to focus on exam revision. Once exams are out of the way the temporary suspension can lift and son or daughter can do a bit of catching up. After all, they will have the whole summer holidays to make up for it!

2. Talk about exam nerves and realistic expectations

Though it might seem akin to poking a caged tiger, gently encourage your daughter or son to talk, when ready, about exam nerves. How are they feeling? What pressure are they putting on themselves to deliver certain results? Emphasise that such feelings are completely normal and to be expected. Remind them of their hard work to date to build confidence and suggest they have a look at our exam stress tips for students.

3. Help make time for exercise during exam preparation

tips for parents during exams - help them get some exerciseParents during exams want their kids to do as well as they can. By definition that entails a commitment to revision, past papers and the like. A regime of eat-sleep-study-repeat is however counter-productive.

Physical exercise releases endorphins – the body’s natural mood lifter. This helps to clear their mind and take them out of the exam pressure cooker. Parents can play a vital role in encouraging and making exercise possible. For example by offering to take them to and from a sports venue or paying for them to take a night off studying to hit the gym. Help them put together a study schedule that includes regular breaks for exercise and encourage them to maintain attendance at sporting clubs or groups.

Find out more on ways for teens to exercise.

4. You get out what you put in

Along with exercise to help keep your child out of an eat-sleep-study-repeat cycle, play your part in terms of maintaining a good diet and chill out time. Focused time revising for exams is important but a cycle of study with few breaks and surviving on a diet of ‘at the desk’ snack food and energy drinks will compromise their health and exam preparations.

Check out this guide to healthy eating for teens.

5. What are you expecting from them during their exams?

tips for parents during exams - manage expectationsParents naturally want their children to do well in exams through school and further education. That is completely natural. Most kids place enough pressure upon themselves during study and exam preparation to make that outcome a reality. Additional expectations, demands or pressure from mum and dad can end up being more damaging than useful.

The application of additional pressure by mum and dad may be explicit, like telling them you want them to achieve certain grades. Or it can be more implicit, like how you talk about your expectations for exam success in front of their friends/parents of their friends.

Reassure them of your love and support no matter what the outcome of exams and emphasise that this is not the be all and end all for them. Why not encourage them to read our article ‘Do exam results define your future?’

Support and counselling from The Spark

The Spark’s mission is a simple one: to make relationships work.

If you feel exam stress is impacting on the relationships in your family, The Spark can offer support, advice and counselling to tackle difficult issues.

Find out more about private counselling – for parents and families – or freephone 0808 802 0050. You can also contact our Relationship Helpline for free support with relationship problems or check out our free parenting resources online.

Through counselling – for couples, individuals, families and children – and support services The Spark aims to make relationships in Scotland work. We operate from 17 locations providing local counselling and support.

exam stress tips

It is not long until schools, colleges and universities across Scotland will put up their ‘Quiet! Exam in Progress’ signs. And with it comes the inevitable exam stress and worry.

To help you cope with pre-exam nerves, The Spark has prepared some top tips. We work in Scottish schools providing courses on how to cope with exam stress and nerves so you can be sure we know a thing or two about getting through exam season.  Here are our top 4 tips for coping with exam stress.

Exam stress tips #1: exam stress is totally normal

exam stress tipsFeeling a degree of stress and nerves about exams is a completely normal reaction. Exams are an important step in your life and you want to do your best. But keep in mind that you are not alone or ‘flaky’ or ‘weak’ for feeling this way.

Every person has a different tolerance for stress and a different way of responding to it. For some it can be – in manageable doses – a help to maintain focus and encourage them to study. Other people struggle to manage it effectively.

The key is to put your exams in perspective. They are one step in your life journey and your future is unlikely to be ‘wrecked’ by not doing as well as you might have hoped. Many people find other routes to their chosen career despite disappointing exam results. The process might take a little longer or be a bit harder but you can still get there. Do your best and see what happens.

Related article: Do exam results define your future? Thankfully, no. 

Exam stress tips #2: talk about how you are feeling

Preparing for exams can make you feel like it is ‘you versus the world’. It might seem like you have no support and long hours studying can leave you feeling isolated and under pressure. Talking about how you are coping with exam preparation is really beneficial.

Your friends are going through the same experience. Instead of bottling up your emotions or feeling like you just need to get through it, share how you are feeling with a trusted friend. Remember that your parents and older siblings have been there before and came out the other side. You might be surprised how helpful and reassuring talking to them can be on issues like exam prep, coping with nerves and dealing with results (good or bad).

Exam stress tips #3: take care of yourself

Stressing over exams can often lead us into negative behaviour, like cramming in as much revision as possible. Students can end up filling every waking hour (and a few when they should be sleeping) with past papers and course revision. None of that is healthy and can actually be counter-productive.

Performing well in your exams requires revision and preparation. But it also needs you to be in top form physically and mentally. That entails looking after your own wellbeing by sleeping well, eating healthily (not litres of Red Bull!) and exercising. Passing an exam is as much about how you slept, ate and exercised as how many hours revision you managed.

Find out more about health eating for your age group

exam stress tipsExam stress tips #4: it does not have to be revision 24/7

It is important to strike a balance between revision and having some fun. As a part of looking after yourself set time aside to do something you really enjoy and to chill out.

It will be tempting to forget about studying however! As a result it is important to be disciplined enough to limit that time. Put together a study schedule that includes an hour of revision followed by a 20 minute break watching your favourite TV comedy or listening to relaxing music. Feeling refreshed, you can then return to your studying and smash a few more hours of revision.

At the end of a good day of study, organise something fun to do as a reward for your efforts. Catch up with a friend or go to the gym as a little ‘well done’ to yourself for another day of exam prep.

Exam stress and relationships

Exam stress can be a real challenge for any young person. It can impact on your closest relationships – with friends, boyfriend/girlfriend, family – negatively. If you are struggling you can contact our free Relationship Helpline.

The Helpline offers help and advice via live web chat online or on freephone 0808 802 2088.

If you are aged 18 or over you can also talk to us about counselling and whether that could help you with the challenges you are facing. Contact our enquiries line free on 0808 802 0050 or complete an enquiry online.