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What can parents do to help teenagers with the stress of exam results looming?

Wed 22nd Jul 2015

The period of waiting for examination results for both teenagers and parents can be a difficult and stressful time.

For teenagers and parents alike August can be a stressful month when waiting for the GCSE/A Level results to come in.

Many teenagers become worried and anxious, as they realise examination results can affect their futures.  During this time they might experience:

  • Sleepless nights
  • A sharp increase or loss of appetite
  • A nervous churning in their stomachs
  • Headaches and susceptibility to colds
  • Feelings of continual exhaustion
  • Panic/anxiety attacks
  • Nightmares in some cases

It is important that teenagers are able to talk to family and friends during this time open up and talk about their feelings and fears.  They need to try and be realistic and be prepared to accept worse results than they had hoped for.

If the results are poor or they have failed, they need to recognise that this is only one setback and that this does not reflect how they are as a person.  This is when they need to be encouraged and be prepared to explore other options.  For children who had hoped to attend university, they may want to re-sit their exams, take a year out, look at apprenticeships or a number of different options.

Learning about failure is important and teenagers need to realise that they won’t succeed in everything all the time and that sometimes they will fail – it is a normal part of life.  Failing and learning how to deal with that failure will help them down the road in life when they face similar challenges. 

What can parents and friends do to help?

Be there to comfort them and listen – show empathy.  Remember that when they first receive bad results that they might be tearful and angry and might want to be left alone. If this is the case, give them space but let them know you are there for them when they eventually want to talk.

On a practical level make sure they are eating properly and are not running low on blood sugar levels.  At times of stress some teenagers find it hard to eat and drink properly.

Above all be encouraging and let them think ahead to what they want to do in future.  Never make them feel they have failed by telling them “I told you so”– “if you’d revised harder this would never have happened” – this will only make them feel worse and could lead to more anxiety and even depression.  Sometimes you can treat this as a learning opportunity and ask them how in future they might do things differently.

Teenagers need to work out for themselves what the next steps are but will require their parents support to do this – they will need to have strength and resilience to learn from this experience, and to feel positive about the future. 

There are many people in this world who have had successful and enjoyable careers without having obtained top exam results.  Once they have started to get over their disappointment and seem receptive to ideas, this might be something to point out to them.

Don’t be afraid to talk about the results, either before or after the exams and don’t ignore the disappointment they are feeling. Encourage them to discuss it and map out all the different possibilities that are open to them in the future.

At the same time keep reminding them just how hard they have worked, and that effort in itself shows they have the qualities and right attitude to succeed in what they do next. Remind them that many people who have done well in life did not always go down the traditional route but might travelled in a different direction without having passed exams until they achieved their goals.

It can be very useful for teenagers to see a counsellor before, during and after examinations.  It may help reduce stress levels and also address problems that might not be directly related to their exams, but that might be making studying difficult for them.