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Are Your Kid's Exams Causing You Stress?

When it comes to exams, or indeed any academic work, parents feel that they should be encouraging their teen to try hard and do well. The problem is that in trying to achieve this, many parents end up causing stress either for themselves, their teen or both.

So what causes this stress? Basically, it boils down to one key belief; a belief held by many parents and one that is reinforced by most schools.

To do well you must work hard

Consequently parents spend much of their time trying to get their teens to word hard. The sad fact is that there are some students who could work hard for the rest of their life and still achieve only mediocre results. And then there are other students who appear to put in very little effort and still do well.

This belief leads parents to think one of two things, either their teen is working hard enough or they're not. Either way, unhelpful stress can still be a problem.

If your teen is working hard enough

Usually the person who gets over-stressed in this situation is the teen. The parent's role here is to help their teen manage the stress. Beware of 'going over the top' in encouraging your teen; let them know that even if they don't achieve exactly what they want it's not the end of the world.

Remind them that there is usually more than one way to get to where they want to go and that you'll be there to support them on whichever path they take. Of course you can only do that if you believe it yourself.

If you are very fixed in your own beliefs about what's possible and what's not, then you're going to feel the stress as well. The danger here is that your stress will add to that of your teen's. To avoid getting in this situation, explore what other options are available in the eventuality that things do not turn out in the way you want.

If your teen is not working hard enough

In this situation the person feeling the stress is you, the parent. Most parents will try one or more of the following methods.

  1. Giving advice
    Many parents will try motivating their teen by telling them how important it is to do well in the exam, how having good results will give them more choice and they will have a better chance of getting a job/going to college. Alternatively, if internal exams are involved, the message is about doing well so they can get into the 'right' groups or sets next year.

    This form of motivation is unlikely to work, as it is often too general. Teens have heard all of these messages before so why should they act differently this time?

    Use motivation by tying it in to something specific, something concrete that they can understand and feels real. Find something that they are interested in and see if you can link it to what they need to do. Sometimes you can then use the concept of needing to do something you don't want now so that you can achieve this specific thing that you do want later.

  2. Bribery/reward
    Some parents will resort to a form of bribery or reward as a motivator; I will give you a certain amount of money for each exam in which you achieve a specific grade or something similar.

    Unfortunately using a reward system in this way is often doomed to failure. The outcome is just too far away in time to be an effective motivator; teens need a more immediate way in which to receive a reward.

    Consequently it's much better to reward them for the working hard part, rather than just the outcome. Set up a system that rewards them for the amount of time they spend studying. Ensure you agree on how the system works or your teen will just refuse to take part.

    Ensure also that you have a way of checking that they are in fact studying and not just pretending. Let them know that this is part of the agreement and then spend time asking them about what they've studied. You don't need to do this every time, just enough for them to realise that you will check.

  3. Control
    Many parents attempt to force their teen to work by using a form of control; you will only go out when you've studied for 3 hours.

    Unfortunately this process rarely achieves anything positive, as the old saying goes 'you can force a horse to water but you can't make it drink'. Similarly you can force your teen to sit with their books but you can't force them to take in the knowledge.

    The main result of this process is a deteriation in the parent teen relationship and negative feelings in all concerned.

    A form of control can be used successfully, one whereby you and your teen form an agreement about how they are going to study. This can be set up similar to the reward system above, but in this case you would also set up consequences if your teen fails to keep to the agreement.

Great care needs taking in using any of these methods. Understanding what's really stopping your teen from working is key to the success or failure or your attempts.

If at the heart of the problem your teen rejects the whole academic system then there is little that you can do to get your teen studying. And that means using a whole new approach entirely.

About the Author
Carol Shepley has been involved with teenagers for over 10 years and, as the parent of a teen herself, fully understands the pressures placed on parents and teens today. She now shares this knowledge and experience through her website www.GrowingUpMatters.com so that parents can help their teens become resilient, resourceful and responsible adults.


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