With exams cancelled across the country, how can we support our children through these uncertain and unprecedented times?
A recent study by the Mental Health Foundation and Swansea University* found that more than half of British teens have found themselves unable to stop worrying during the pandemic with 68% of teens saying that they fear for the impact on their futures. It’s hardly surprising to learn that a huge number of our young adults feel concerned and anxious about what lies ahead.
Why Teens Are Worried
The usual structure of examinations has been swapped out for graded coursework and assignments, meaning our teens have had to adjust extremely quickly. This has, of course, caused great trepidation and worry. Our teens expected and planned for study time, study leave and then the actual sitting of their exams. Yes, there will have been a degree of stress about this but at least it was a comfortable and familiar experience, something they’ve been prepped for their whole school life.
Now they’re being told that their grades will be based on their coursework, much of which was completed (or not, in some cases) at home, during lockdown, with varying degrees of supervision or support. For some, this will be a cause of stress. Many teens will be worried they haven’t done enough at home or feel as if they could have performed better, had they been in the classroom. There are also those who didn’t have the necessary equipment to do home learning, or those who didn’t participate at all.
Of course, some teens will be relieved to hear about this new assessment structure. Some people often perform better in their coursework than in the pressurised environment of exams. There may still be worries, however, that they won’t achieve the grades they want, deserve or need for taking the next step in their futures. Last year’s grade fiasco by the government has shown that this indeed can happen, so it’s very much a concern for our young people this year.
How To Help
There are lots of ways you can help to support your teen through this turbulent period. Checking in with them regularly to make sure they’re coping with the set work, how they’re feeling about it all and asking if there’s anything you can do to help is a great place to start. Knowing you’re on hand for a rant, a hug, a helping hand (no algebra questions, please!) can be a great comfort to your teen. They want to feel as if you’re in their corner.
You can also try:
- Helping your teen to set up a manageable work plan each week. Your teen may need help to refocus their efforts and priorities in other directions, now that studying for exams is off the table.
- Keep up the positivity! Try to look on the bright side and talk about the positives in the situation. After all, none of us can change this so it’s something we all have to make the best of.
- Praise their efforts, no matter how small, to keep them motivated and moving forward. Talk about how amazing their achievements are, especially during a pandemic. Our teens have adjusted to more than we would ever have dreamed possible and all during a very scary and stressful time.
- Have some ‘no-school chat’ time with your teen every week. Relax and do something you both enjoy to distract them from the stress and give them some well-deserved downtime. No school-related chat is allowed, just fun!
- Encourage your teen to get as much support from the school as possible. Whether that’s talking to their teacher or career advisor for additional help or advice, it can be beneficial to your child to know they have different avenues of support.
- Talk about the many different career paths and options that are out there. Not everyone has a straight line of education, after all. You could talk about your own education and career path as an example or point out how some of your family members carved their way through life. It can be helpful for your teen to get a better perspective on how wide the world of work really is.
- If your teen is planning to head off to college or university, point out that this situation is great practice for further education. After all, many courses follow a similar path of graded coursework and assignments, rather than one big exam. This can help to ease any worries your teen might have about how they’ll cope with further education.
- Encourage your teen to keep up a routine throughout the day and to have a regular bedtime. Lack of sleep can really affect anxiety levels. You could suggest going for a regular morning walk together to avoid lie-ins and for a happier, healthier start to the day.
- Keep an eye on what your teen is eating and drinking. Are they getting enough H20? Are they eating a balanced diet? Filling a water bottle and providing plenty of healthy snacks can help to keep your teen hydrated and healthy which helps with concentration, mental health and energy.
If you’re seriously concerned about your teen’s anxiety and are extremely worried about their mental health, talk to your GP. They will be able to assess your teen and make recommendations for any treatment. *https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/news/many-british-teenagers-feeling-anxious-alone-and-fearful-in-the-pandemic-new-mental-health-research