With A-Level exam results looming, stress and anxiety may be felt in many family homes in the UK. For thousands of young people, this day means an awful lot. Parents may feel at times that they're damned if they do, damned if they don't. Recalling my teenage days, how I experienced my parents' own brand of pressure, and what I felt I needed from them, here are six things that may be helpful for parents to remember on A-Level results day.
1) Give them space
Results days are stressful: all the time leading up to the exams and the exam period itself are thrown into sharp focus as you try to prepare yourself for being disappointed in some way, in fear of what your parents will think of your results, and perhaps worst of all - what did everyone else get? A reassuring word or text on the day to acknowledge the situation at hand, but space for them to process their results and feelings about it afterwards. Even if they did very well, it's best to let them get in touch with you to share the news. So be patient. If you don't hear from them quickly, the news may not be good, and a simple 'Are you OK?' will probably be better received than 'How did you do in the exams?'
2) Don't pre-empt how they feel about their results
Making assumptions that they must be very disappointed about their B in English may only serve to make them feel like they have let you down. They may never have honestly expected more than that in that subject and in fact be relieved it's not worse. Whether teens are over-sharers at home or completely secretive, they have their own private lives, thoughts and feelings about what they feel able and unable to achieve, and you can't assume to know exactly how they feel or what they expected for themselves, no matter the bravado or self-deprecation you witness at home. It may be more constructive to ask them how they feel about their results, before jumping to any conclusions.
3) Try not to be reactive
If you can't get your head around how your child did so poorly in the exams, take a moment to accept that they may have just under-performed on the day. Don't get up in arms about calling the examination board and getting papers re-marked, or asking to submit late requests for exceptional circumstances. Over-involvement like this may only serve to increase anxiety in young people and inhibits them from building resilience as they are receiving a message that they need protecting, that the system is working against them, and that there will always be someone there to fix things when things go wrong.
4) Give praise for the right actions
Praise for hard work, for pulling things together when times were stressful, for being able to maintain focus through exam season is much more encouraging in the long-term than praise for being 'so clever' and being 'bound to get into the 'right' university'. How teens approach their A-Levels and subsequent exam results could affect their time at university, particularly in terms of their self-esteem. Straight As at A-Level and rewards for being 'so clever' may only become problematic at university, when some who achieved highly beforehand find themselves feeling distinctly academically average. Disappointing A-Level results could be the making of a student, encouraging them to work harder next time around. Whatever results your child achieves, positive self-reflection should be encouraged: how they felt the exam period was, what they might do differently, and what they might do the same in the future.
5) Look to the future
Whether your child performed as, worse or better than expected, we all know you can't change what has past. Good results will hopefully result in confidence looking ahead, and for those who performed worse than they or you expected: they are probably feeling pretty awful about that already. They know they should have worked harder, focused more, and not worried so much about missing out on time with friends. You may want your child to do very well academically - it may be worth checking in with yourself about whether this has any connection to your own experience at school or in life. Try to treat your child genuinely as an individual and view the situation somewhat objectively. It is their life ultimately, and their disappointment if they didn't do as well as they had hoped. And in the vast majority of cases, young people desperately want to feel their parents are proud of them. So if you are feeling crushing disappointment, compassion and pragmatism are essential
6) Find the right way to be helpful
Support them by helping them with the practical things: whether they can do re-takes and if so, when, and what they can do in terms of university and next steps. If you're worried that your child has been struggling with particularly high levels of stress and anxiety, it may be worth talking to them about whether they would like to talk to someone outside of home. Welldoing.org has an adolescent questionnaire that helps people aged 12-18 find the support best suited to help them. Suggesting seeing a therapist may not be received well by all young people, but it can be posited in recognition of how important this time between home and independent life, whether at university or at work, can be.