(edited)
Parenting

13 August, 2018

“We Got This!” – How to support your teenager receiving Leaving Certificate results

Approaching a new chapter in young people's lives

Approaching a new chapter in young people's lives

Dr Colman Noctor, Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist with St Patrick's Mental Health Services, shares some advice for parents supporting students set to receive state exam results.

This week, teenagers from all around the country will be getting their long-awaited Leaving Certificate results. While this may represent an exciting new chapter in your young person’s life, we can also assume that no matter how brave they might appear, most teenagers will be experiencing worry and anxiety about what the future holds.

“The Leaving Certificate is the single most stressful period of life that the majority of Irish teenagers will encounter. Anxiety may intensify as the waiting comes to a close. Anxiety is fundamentally the fear of the unknown; therefore, waiting for a set of unknown results is a classic trigger. They understand the far-reaching consequences of these results, and therefore their reaction is not over-the-top, it is real."

“As a parent, the temptation is to positively future predict, make presumptions that all will be okay, or that ‘it’s in the lap of the Gods now’, and so on. This, however, may not be the most helpful. Instead, offer an authentic reaction by showing that no matter what the results, they have your support."

Here are some tips as to best approach the apprehension of results and college offers…

  • Avoid empty predictions of hopefulness

    A typical mistake we make with anxious people is to try to play down their anxiety. This is done with the best intentions, but often the reassurance of ‘it’s going be grand’ is not effective. It is a big deal to the worrying person and this needs to be acknowledged.

    Instead, expand on the supports the young person has in place and emphasise how you will be there for them, no matter what, to find a solution. This can be done by stating that you don’t share their worry because you believe in them, but, if the results are not what is expected or hoped for, you will be there for them to find another alternative.

  • Provide a menu of options

    Often, we applaud the idea of having specific and focused goals. However, these goals need to have some flexibility built into them in order to overcome challenges. It is important to have a Plan B or a series of options should the perfect ideal not materialise.

    Therefore, it may be no harm to redirect the young person to the notion that there is a plethora of responses available to them which can be accessed dependent on the results and the subsequent college offer. Once again, emphasise your unwavering supportive role as parent.

  • Invite perspective and context to join the conversation

    In the lead-up to an anxious event, the anxious and catastrophic voices in our heads tend to dominate and be loudest. This can encourage panic and rumination.

    If you see a young person who is engaging in this dynamic, encourage them to invite perspective and context into the conversation. These voices are often drowned out at these times and need support to increase their volume and influence.

    Try to help your young person to access these thoughts and support what they have to say. This will create balance and fend against sensationalised thought processes.

  • Approach the topic as an optimistic realist

    I always suggest that you approach parenting like you would approach supporting your child on a rollercoaster: you don’t repeatedly say "it’s going be grand" because rollercoaster rides, by their very nature, have twists and turns that are scary and unpredictable. Therefore, making this promise will not materialise and you will have lost the young person’s trust in you.

    Instead, say, "I do not know what is up ahead; it might be challenging. But what I do know is that I am here with you and I will hold on tight to you the whole way around, and we will manage whatever is up ahead together".

I have always found this analogy helpful – imagine your next week and few years as a sat nav. If the results are not what you wanted, there may need to be a change of plan: this is like when you miss a turn and your sat nav begins ‘re-routing’ your journey.

Remember, in these incidences, the destination does not change, only the manner of your journey and, often, the scenic route is more enjoyable and we can get a lot more from it.

The most effective approach and one that communicates the most important message of all is "We got this"!.