Parenting, Teen Mental Health, School and exams

14 June, 2016

Parents need to be aware and supportive during exams

Exam pressure is one of the top causes of anxiety in young people: we share advice for parents on how to get through the exam period.

Experts at St Patrick’s Mental Health Services (SPMHS) say that parents need to be aware and supportive during this time.

Paul Gilligan, Chief Executive Officer of SPMHS, says:

“The exam period can be a very tense and nerve-wracking time for young people and, in some cases, pressure from parents is one of the top causes of apprehension. It is important that parents are positive and put exams into perspective.”

Some stress and anxiety is normal during exam times and keeping lines of communication open between parents and young people during this period is vital.

Colman Noctor, Adolescent Psychotherapist with SPMHS, says “the narrow focus of points and league table-like measurement is difficult to cope with, and it is important for other systems in the young person’s life to challenge this and help young people to feel less vulnerable".

He continues:

“It is important to focus on the effort involved in exam preparation, rather then the outcome, emphasising that the outcome is secondary to their hard work. If you feel that your effort and application is valued, you will feel believed in and this can sustain you through the difficult exam period and subsequent summer awaiting results."

Parents should also avoid minimising the importance of the exam by stating the Leaving Certificate "isn’t everything" as, for the young person, right now, it is! Rather, it is important to remember that, indeed, the Leaving Cert is an important avenue for opportunity, but it is only one of which life provides, and there are many more along the way.”

For parents, building up a young person’s confidence and self-esteem is key, and helping a young person to understand that anxiety is normal is beneficial.

Some of the most common behavioural changes in a young person at exam time include:

  • Difficulty getting to sleep or difficulty waking up in the morning
  • Constant tiredness
  • Forgetfulness
  • Unexplained aches and pains
  • Poor appetite
  • Increased anxiety and irritability
  • Increased heart rate
  • Migraines/headaches
  • Blurred vision
  • Dizziness

Positive mental health awareness in young people is essential for adulthood. Studies have shown that half of life-long mental health disorders start by the age of 14 and three quarters by the age of 24 years of age (Kessler, 2005).

For its part, SPMHS has embarked on a new Transition Year (TY) Programme that encourages TY students to take part in work experience and mental health classes in SPMHS. Each student returns to their school and teaches their class what they have learned about mental health. Feedback from this year's participants is positive, with many saying that they now feel equipped to recognize the symptoms of a mental illness.

Paul Gilligan continues:

“It’s at this time of year we need to pay special attention to the emotional needs of our young people. Exam time is stressful, but, with the right attitudes and support, every student can flourish.”

exam time


exam stress

Continue to…

Exams finished, its ‘party time’ for teenagers – what should parents do?