The end of Year 12 exams marks a pivotal moment for teenagers as they transition into adulthood. It is a period marked by sighs of relief, jubilation and trepidation as teenagers look ahead to starting university.
As an Educational Neuroscientist at the University of Melbourne, I can say that the rollercoaster of emotions that your child is feeling is normal. As parents, there are strategies you can use to help your kids as they navigate and handle the post-exam whirlwind and give your child the room to let off steam while also keeping them focused on making important decisions about their future.
Embrace the chaos of Schoolies.
The word sends fear through the hearts of parents across the country and, you may not want to hear it, but I don't know if anyone has come up with a way to handle Schoolies.
The best (and really only) thing you can do at this point is let them go and try to keep them safe. After months of stress and anxiety, your kids need a release and it's an important reward for their hard work. If you put trust in them and ensure they understand that you just want them to be safe, they will listen.
Keep communication open before results.
Even the most diligent and intelligent students will have a level of uncertainty in the lead up to receiving their ATAR results.
You know your child better than anyone so you'll understand how they are feeling. If they're nervous, that's absolutely normal and the important thing is to maintain open lines of communication. Talk to them about how they're feeling and listen -- you can't do much but provide support and perspective and reassure them that they've done all they can.
Listen and empathise on results day.
You need to be prepared for results day as how you react will impact them almost as much as the score itself. If your child gets a poor result, there are three things to keep in mind.
1. Their reaction is likely going to be different to yours and that's okay. We often assume and predict what they should be doing or feeling and layer it on them. Instead, it's really important to let them feel what they're feeling.
2. For the first 48 to 72 hours, your job as a parent is not to be proactive but rather to just listen and empathise. A lot of parents will have an inclination to try and fix the problem but what this does for your child is invalidate the moment and what they're feeling. You'll want to jump in and tell them not to worry but they need to find this perspective on their own.
3. After you've allowed them this time to process their results, you can start injecting perspective about what they really want. Talk to them about what they're thinking and start planning other ways to get into their course.
Whether their results are good or bad, whatever your first reaction is; do the opposite. Your kids have been with you for 17 years so they know exactly what to expect from you and they're going to try and protect against that. If you're first reaction is usually jumping in and trying to solve things, they know you're going to do that and they won't hear it. Instead, sit back and ask them what they want to do.
Provide stability and support while they transition to uni.
Going from high school to university is a big change and some kids will handle this transition differently to others. The most important thing you can do is keep things as normal as possible throughout the process. Some will handle it with aplomb but others will be anxious and uncertain.
Kids put themselves under so much pressure these days, the last thing they need is more pressure from parents, be it about their results, what they want to do or how they are behaving. The more you sit back and let them handle things themselves at this point in their lives, the better it will be.
It all comes down to understanding your child and how they are feeling about the end of school. It's a time of significant change in their lives and as a parent your role is to maintain a level of stability so they feel comfortable and confident taking their first steps into the real world.