A parent’s guide to supporting teens through exams

by Laurel Pretorius
A parent’s guide to supporting teens through exams
Reading Time: 4 minutes
When our teens write their exams, it can become a veritable nightmare for both us and them. But by showing the right support it really doesn’t have to be so stressful. By Laurel Pretorius

Without fail, the end of the school year brings with it a wave of stress and anxiety for both teens and their parents, as the final exams and assignments pile up. Teens often face immense pressure to perform well during this critical period of their lives. As a parent, you play a pivotal role in supporting your teen throughout their school lives but even more so during the stressful end-of-year exams.

Read on for practical advice on both physical and emotional support to help your teenager (and you!) navigate this challenging time.

Checking in

Sadly, many South African teens do not get the right kind of educational support from their parents. “They (parents) are usually too busy working and do not have time to check in with their children or worry about how their children are coping during exam time,” says Bertha Muchadeyi, family and Social Service Leader at Rays of Hope (https://raysofhope.co.za/), an NGO based in Alexandra Township focusing on improving the lives of children and their families living there.

She adds that “Having worked in the community of Alexandra for over 10 years, parental involvement in their children’s education is not a priority and this affects children’s learning and development in a big way.”

Muchadeyi believes that parents often think they’ll get their children to do well by saying things like, “if you don’t achieve this or do this, you’re not enough” or “you’re not going to be happy in life if you don’t do well at school”. All parents end up doing is heaping fear and more pressure on their kids.

She suggests that parents try support their teens differently by:

  • Encouraging them to establish their own study plans and routine.
  • Encouraging them to start early. Don’t wait for the last minute to cram everything in.
  • Encouraging daily check-ins with your teen to see where they are mentally.

In other words, to help our teens flourish and do well in their exams our role is to provide both practical and emotional support.

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Ways to practically support your teen:

  1. Good nutrition: A well-balanced diet can have a significant impact on your teen’s ability to concentrate and retain information. Ensure they have access to nutritious meals and snacks rich in brain-boosting nutrients (fruit, veggies, grains, proteins). Encourage them to drink water and avoid caffeine or sugary foods.
  2. Enough sleep: Quality sleep is vital for cognitive function and stress management. Help your teen establish a regular sleep schedule, aiming for 8-10 hours of restful sleep per night.
  3. An environment for studying: Create a quiet, well-lit, and clutter-free space that is conducive to studying. Make sure it is calm and there are no distractions.
  4. Frequent breaks and exercise: Encourage your teen to take short, frequent breaks between study sessions (10 to 20 mins) as this can enhance focus and retention. Physical activity is equally important, as it reduces stress and helps clear the mind.
  5. Sensible time management: Encourage your teen to create a study schedule which suits them and includes designated time for each subject, breaks, and relaxation. Setting realistic goals actually reduces stress.

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5 ways to emotionally support your teen

  1. Communicate openly: Create a safe and open space for your teen to express their concerns and emotions. Listen without judgment, and encourage them to share their worries, goals, and progress.
  2. Encourage often: Give them regular words of encouragement and praise for their hard work and effort. Avoid putting excessive pressure on them to achieve certain grades and remind them that their best is always good enough.
  3. Stress reduction techniques: Show your teen how they can reduce their stress by breathing deeply and doing mindfulness exercises. These can help them stay calm and grounded during exams.
  4. Balance and self-care: Make sure your teen is balancing their study time with relaxation. Encourage them to spend time with friends and engage in activities that make them happy. This is essential for emotional well-being.
  1. Be patient and understanding: Understand that your teen may get frustrated or anxious. Be patient and flexible with their needs and moods. Adapt your support to help them.

How to help your child manage exam stressTeenagers in a challenging time of their lives where they are struggling with hormones, anxiety, low self-esteem, and peer pressure. As parents, we must remind ourselves that we were once dealing with the same struggles.

“Prioritise your teen’s mental wellbeing. Identify triggers of stress and feelings that cause them fear and anxiety. Help them to cope with negative feelings, so that they can regain focus and confidence. Very importantly, check your own anxieties as a parent before projecting them onto your teen,” Muchadeyi concludes.

Ultimately, your unwavering support and understanding will make a significant difference in their academic success and overall well-being during this stressful and challenging phase.

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