How to support your teenager who isn’t sitting exams this summer

It’s been a strange few weeks as the world has apparently tilted on its axis and shaken up everything we thought we knew for certain. While adults all over the UK are adjusting to working from home, many of our teenagers are facing the prospect of months at home with their families without the revision they thought they had in front of them.

It’s an unprecedented situation to be facing, and as young people they can’t be expected to have all of the skills to deal with what has happened to them. So here’s my advice for how best to support your teen through this unexpected period of nothingness.

Focus on what they can control

So many things are being “done to” us at the moment. We can only go out once a day. We can’t see people who don’t live in our household. As teenagers who naturally seek connection with their friends before their family, it is doubly-hard to cope with the current situation.

Help your teen to focus on what they can control. They can continue to study if they wish – especially if going on to college or university is in the plan for them. Focusing on core subjects would be the best place to start. There’s plenty of resources available online (BBC Bitesize for example) and I’m sure schools will also be willing to help with work if you ask.

Gently encourage them to focus on the subjects they do want to study further and remind them that the college or university may do some assessments early on in their course having not had their full results.  I would also advise not to push too hard if they are resistant to doing anything, giving them some time to work through this for themselves. Just signpost what is available and let them make their own choices otherwise you risk running into a lot of arguments.

Support their mixed emotions

When it comes to their results many teenagers will feel mixed emotions. Some will have wanted to improve on their mock results, others will be relieved they didn’t have to sit the exams after all.

The results they get will be awarded based on teacher recommendations and they may feel this isn’t fair in some subjects, perhaps perceiving that a certain teacher doesn’t like or get them in the way that others do, and wondering if this will affect their marks.

Whichever it is, try to help your teen understand the facts and take time to listen to their emotions. Give them time and space to talk about how they are feeling and show empathy for how difficult and challenging this must be for them. Again, what’s important in this situation is what they can control; remember that this is only their reaction to the results.

Teachers are as gutted as your teenager is that they haven’t been able to complete their courses and have the best opportunity to get the grades they wanted. Teachers are some of the forgotten superheroes of the current situation, and it’s really worth encouraging your teen to keep in touch with them by email if you can as they will be more than willing to help you with them explore their options and next steps.

Suggest they limited their social media

It’s notorious for being an echo chamber, and your teen’s social media feeds are likely to be filled with people bemoaning the current situation, the unfairness of their grades and looking for someone to take their frustrations out on. Social media is a haven for teens to say what they think others want to hear rather than the truth, just like in the build up to exams many friends will be saying on social media that they are not doing any revision or study when in reality they are!

Try to encourage your teen to limit their exposure to social media for a while (I appreciate this will be difficult!) and help them understand what they are likely to be faced with when they look at it. This is not about taking it away completely as they need the social connection with their friends but if they are continuing to study, it’s worth encouraging them to focus as if they are doing their exams and trying to make sure they stay away from the distraction of their phones while learning/revising..

Help your teen to find closure

One of the hardest things for our teenagers is missing out on all of the rites of passage that ending their time at school or college should come with. Whether that’s the prom, the last day, the signed shirts or the yearbook, as it stands they won’t get the opportunity to do this stuff in the normal way or the usual timescales.

But they can get creative. Lucy Parsons of Life More Extraordinary has some recommendations about how to help your teen get the closure they need. Lucy suggests finding a way to say your goodbyes online and create memories by co-creating videos and photobooks as a keepsake.

More schools are now announcing rearranged plans for end of year proms to take place in early September so hopefully they will still get to enjoy this experience and feel like they did get a good send off to end their education.

Encourage them to prepare for their next steps

Although the summer isn’t going to go the way our teens expected, they can still prepare for their next steps, whether that is going to college, university or looking for a job.

Support and motivate them to focus on practical things – they could clear out their wardrobe and clean their bedroom, getting rid of anything they won’t need again. While charity shops aren’t open at the moment, they will be grateful for donations when they can, so keep a bag for things that can be handed on when the time comes.

Encourage them to start making that list for college/university so that they have a plan to get what they need when everything returns to normal, everything from new stationery and a new bag for college to working through the huge list of stuff needed for uni!

Help them explore any volunteering opportunities they may be interested in getting involved in to given them a new sense of purpose and get some experience.  The national volunteering website is Maybe they would enjoy feeling like they are contributing to something else.

Support them to get started on a CV if they are looking for a job to show they have been proactive in getting some experience and using their time productively despite the challenging times.

Ask them questions about what they think they can do to make the most of this time for themselves; what ideas do they have?

Supporting your teen at this time can be really difficult, don’t put too much pressure on yourself and do your best to support by listening and encouraging. It is easy to get frustrated with their lack of motivation and enthusiasm but remember we are all adjusting to this change and some may take longer than others to work through it, make some decisions and get back on track. Don’t forget to take care of  yourself too – try not to pass your own worries about it onto them and if you look after your own wellbeing you are more likely to keep calm and support your teen in the best way you can.

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