It’s that time of year when students around the country are crossing off days before school and NCEA examinations. Stress, real stress, more stress.
Teachers around the country can attest to what the media often refer to as an “epidemic” of anxiety and depression afflicting teenagers. It’s really sad.
So is the world more stressful now? Are we simply more aware of mental health issues? Or are these terms sometimes being misused/abused?
These are questions I ponder on a daily basis. As I attempt to manage my own well being in a high pressure job while raising a family, I understand things can get out of whack. It’s not a nice feeling when the wave pushes you under and you simply can’t catch your breath.
But there are steps that can be taken to manage well being and mental health. There is also a lot of support these days for our young people – so much more than when we were teens. But yes, there could also be more help out there.
And yet the skeptic in me is, skeptical about whether every single young person who says they have anxiety and depression actually does. There is a real difference between having a bad day/week or feeling under pressure and being diagnosed with either of those two illnesses.
Exams are an excellent case in point. A nightmare scenario for those who suffer from anxiety and depression. And also, an opportune time for others who perhaps made some bad choices during the year to claim the same.
So what can parents do? The best way to gain confidence heading into an exam and quell anxiety is to prepare. But you can’t force your surly teen into their bedroom on a sunny day when their friends are messaging and their already tired from school.
Like resilience, intrinsic motivation is extremely important for academic success – and we all know that in itself varies depending on the child. Young people have to want to do well for themselves. They have to set goals, stick to them, make sacrifices and do the hard yards. If we as parents (or as teachers) do too much for them, we are disabling them in the long run. They never get to experience hard earned success, to feel proud, to develop a backbone when things go wrong.
Why would you want to study hard, get qualifications and leave home if home is such a sweet deal that you don’t see the point in trying because not only are your needs met but also lots of your wants? And that doesn’t mean start being mean to your kids so they can’t wait to get the heck out of home.
But it is our role as parents to be the guides on the side. Talk to them about THE FUTURE, set clear expectations around school work and occasionally, you might have to play bad cop. Take the devices away, clear a desk, pour a glass of water and show them the chair!
Another way to help is to make a study timetable together. This can make the preparation process more manageable and less overwhelming. Blank out all the sports practices and meets first, blank out time for catching up with friends too (at this point, they can see you are being reasonable and aren’t a complete ogre). Then allocate one subject per night/half day to focus on.
Talk to them about topics that will be covered in the exam. Do they know? Check what they did well in during the year so they can focus on weaknesses. Pull out old tests, see if they can correct a few mistakes. encourage them to write down questions for their teachers – we love it when students bring us questions or seek clarification on points!
If they are feeling really strung out by a specific subject/topic, they might need some extra help. That needn’t cost you the earth. Lots of schools offer after school tutorials (we do NCEA boost sessions on a Thursday) and lots of teachers will also stay behind to help. You might also know a family member or friend who is (for example!) a maths whiz who would help. One of your child’s friends might even be able to help if they are motivated enough to ask.
There is lots you can do to help your child prepare for exams. And more importantly, lots they can do for themself.
Be realistic too – hardly anyone enjoys exams but life’s not all sunshine and roses. Sometimes people don’t do as well as they’d hoped, sometimes they don’t pass. But so long as you know and your child knows they tried their best and went in prepared, then it’s all part of the learning process.
Just like lots of things in life, sometimes you fail lots before you get it right.
And of course, if you suspect your child is anxious and depressed (they are often the kids who don’t verbalise it), get them help. These are serious issues. Just don’t let them define your child and rob them of the opportunity to develop intrinsic motivation.