One positive thing about January is that feeling of getting back to a normal routine – the calm after the hectic Christmas and New Year storm. For a lot of young people, however, this marks the beginning of six months of non-stop exam pressure.
Prelims run January to February and then there is just over two months of preparation for Highers, Advanced Highers, Intermediates (stages 1 and 2), Higher National Certificates, Higher National Diplomas, Check Behind Your Ears, Poke It With A Stick, Turn Your Head And Cough and whatever other tests can be contrived to make them feel as though they are a suspect product on a quality control conveyer belt.
Quiet please – exam in progress
Exams are, of course, important. It is essential to encourage, badger and harass your teens into doing their best at school. The key is to make them see that exam results are important, but not life defining.
Many young people see this as the moment when they have to decide what they will do with their lives. Then they need to go about attaining the results to make it happen. It is not difficult for them wrongly believe a bad decision or poor results will stick with them forever.
In short they may well feel high school exams and exam results present a decision and assessment which will determine whether they have a life of success and fulfilment or one of failure and misery.
When I grow up…
I can recall the day I explained to my mum that, when I grew up, I was going to be Damon Hill. Nor will I forget the crushing disappointment when she explained to me that Damon Hill is Damon Hill.
It turns out it is just like Highlander: ‘there can only be one’ Damon Hill. Given the spirit crushing response to my first choice of career I decided to keep number two – to be a car racing spy who flies fighter jets on the weekends and just happens to be an Olympic decathlete – to myself.
Unsurprisingly the ‘racing driver spy who flies fighter jets for fun in between Olympic Games’ thing never worked out. Aspirations change and the job you start out with is not necessarily the one you will end up in. The important thing to know is, if things do not work out on your first try, there is usually scope for another go.
The hopes and aspirations of future generations
In addition to making the decision and attaining the grades, young people now face a much less hopeful environment. The Youth Index 2017, an annual research report based on the wellbeing of people aged 16 – 25 in the UK says:
‘… the current political climate is taking a toll on young people, who feel more anxious about their future in the wake of recent world events. Concerns about these and the possible effect on the economy appear to have had a detrimental impact on the hopes and aspirations of young people – with traditional life goals such as owning a house feeling out of reach – and many are now expecting to be worse off than their parents’
Our country’s ‘youth’ get a lot of stick. Lazy and entitled are two ways they are often described. They are, in reality facing a more complex, challenging and at times depressing time than previous generations did.
Mental Health First Aid for Young People
The stress young people face has gradually and rightly become a national government issue at Holyrood and Westminster. Recently British PM Theresa May stated her aims for England:
‘… make mental health an everyday concern for every bit of the system, helping ensure that no one affected by mental ill-health goes unattended. It includes new support for schools with every secondary school in the country to be offered mental health first aid training’
Young people are under an awful lot of stress and many of their worries about the future will be coming to a head in the next few months. Exam results are of course just one issue but a significant one. The more clued-up teachers and other school staff are to the mental health issues young people experience the better.
In the meantime, the rest of us should remember to rate our young people’s health, relationships and wellbeing on a par with their exam results. If they do make a poor decision or fail to make the grade, good mental health and strong, supportive relationships will give them the resilience to turn things around.
As The Divine Comedy wisely wrote in ‘Songs of Love’ (which also happens to be the theme tune to classic comedy Father Ted):
Fate doesn’t hang on a wrong or right choice
Fortune depends on the tone of your voice
So sing while you have time
Let the sun shine down from above
And fill you with songs of love
Youth counselling and support