Being a parent of 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?
Which is a nice segue into 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.
1. It is all about planning
The process starts before exam results drop through the letterbox or pop up on a smartphone screen.
Before the exam results day…
First and foremost, try not to get sucked into the role of ‘competitive dad/mum’; comparing your child with 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.
2. How is your child coping?
The character of each child will differ markedly in how they view exam results day. Some will be beside themselves with anxiety. 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.
3. 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 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 just as damaging.
The days after exam results day
Celebrating 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 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.