After the whirlwind that was last year, we’ve finally entered a much anticipated 2021 and for many of us it’s an exciting time of renewal and positive change. However, for our teens it can be an incredibly stressful time as they face another school year filled with assessments and exams or – worse – the HSC.

Exams can be stressful enough on their own, but add in the effects of a very tumultuous year and it can easily equal a lot of extra mounting pressure. As adults dealing with our own day-to-day lives, stress in our teens can fly under the radar, but it’s important to know what to look out for and how to offer support.

Right now, between a new year starting (and 2020 ending!) and students getting back into “school mode”, big changes are afoot. With Year 12s facing their second official term, they’re well on their way to fronting up to the HSC; it’s a time of transition, excitement, change and tension. As parents or guardians, it can be difficult to know how to best approach your teen’s stress. Luckily, there are many ways to ease their tension, offer support and provide them with coping mechanisms to manage not only high school exam related stress, but to guide them into adulthood.

What to look out for…

Some stress can be a good thing – it acts as a driver for us to work harder and faster, and accomplish tasks before a deadline. However, too much stress can act as more of a hindrance than help and when it comes to exams – especially the Higher School Certificate – pressure can come from every angle and can quickly get out of hand.

Signs and symptoms of stress can include moodiness or feeling overwhelmed, difficulties with decision making, a lack of motivation, muscle tension, headaches and fidgeting.

How best to respond…
At the end of the day, exam results do not determine the future of your teenager and it’s important to remind them of that. Keeping things in perspective is vital – there are always other avenues to pursue a career and lots of things to look forward to post-HSC.

Here are some great ways you can approach your teen that will help them work through their stress, without aggravating it.

  • Ask them about their feelings or what is on their mind – sometimes getting things out in the open can be a big release. Make sure you listen openly in a way that validates their emotions and doesn’t disregard, trivialise or dismiss them.
  • Help them find ways to relax – suggest listening to music or doing something creative, encourage them to break up their time by seeing their friends (study groups can be great!), propose a meditation session, or go for a walk or run with them.
  • Help them manage time effectively – sometimes even having things written down in a plan can make all the difference. Allocate dedicated study time to each subject and create a routine – leaving room for balance of course. Together, work on some realistic deadlines.
  • Tell them it’s okay to come back to things – it’s easy to get flustered and overstimulated, but not everything has to be done immediately and all at once. Let them know they can come back to decisions and projects if they need a break.
  • Help them brainstorm fun and creative ways to memorise – think acronyms, mind maps, colour-coding and quizzes.
  • Help them manage expectations – not everyone performs their best in an exam situation, but unfortunately that’s a limitation our kids are faced with in our schooling system. It’s important to manage both your own and their expectations to ensure there isn’t a gap – which can, in fact, cause added pressure and stress. Talk about how they can deal with outside pressure too – from social media, fellow students, the media and teachers. Try to focus on their health and happiness instead of the number on their ATAR result.

Create the right environment…

Regardless of your age or student status, everyone knows how difficult it is to work when you’re surrounded by distractions. That being said, creating a study environment that is relaxed, calm and quiet can make a world of difference to both stress and efficiency.

To ensure you’re creating a study-friendly environment, consider things like:

  • Turning off the TV or radio, and encouraging noisy siblings to have quiet time too – this will show your teen that you value their study time and will vastly improve their ability to concentrate.
  • The physical environment – good lighting, cool temperatures and a supportive chair are ideal.
  • Eliminating unnecessary clutter – not only will this equal a clearer mind, having less mess will help your mental health too!
  • Discouraging your teen from studying lying down, on the couch or on their bed. It’s good to have work/play boundaries and is also bad for their concentration and posture.

It’s also vital that you encourage healthy habits like exercise, eating well and plenty of sleep.

Post-exams…

The lead up to the results is almost more tense and stressful than the exams themselves. Despite your teen’s indifferent facade, if they don’t get the results they were hoping for there’s a high chance they’re feeling anxious, sad or distressed.

Let them know that an exam does not determine their future, and a result they’re unhappy with does not mean that they are a failure. Recognise and praise their wins and make sure they know that you’re proud of them – regardless of the numbers on paper. Try to keep things in perspective for them and support them by helping them to look for positive ways forward and research their options.

Regardless of the results – post-HSC represents a really exciting new life chapter, so celebrate it with them.

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