Treacherous waters

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So, how do parents of a Year 12 student help them navigate this long-anticipated and often dreaded year?

It’s hard to believe sometimes that your son or daughter, who you tearfully or gleefully accompanied into school on their first day, is now heading into their last year of high school. Where did those years go? How can you cope with the reality of a child who is growing up so fast and will soon be choosing a career?

These are probably some of the overwhelming thoughts racing through parents’ minds as their children face Year 12. I guess they might be wondering how they will relate to and support their children, considering it is one of the most stress-filled years of high school.

Well, as a mother who has experienced this, and as a teacher of Year 12 students, I hope I can provide you with some insights and useful advice to help you navigate the treacherous waters of Year 12, so that both you and your child can feel less stressed.

Each student is unique

It was quite some years ago when my two sons were in Year 12, but each one was very different and handled the year in his own unique way. My older son was pretty chilled and quite independent, so he just got on with the job of doing his work and always made sure that he was in bed by 10:30 pm. He didn’t seem particularly fazed by exams and his attitude was quite matter-of-fact: “I will do the work, but I am not going to be too stressed about it.”

My other son, however, was a stress-monkey who didn’t eat breakfast or lunch, then slept all the way home in the car, only to eat from the time he arrived home until bedtime and then suffered reflux all night! What a nightmare his Year 12 was for both of us!

The personality of your child really makes a huge difference as to how they cope with Year 12 and hence how you need to deal with them. You, as their parent, know them better than they probably know themselves, so this should help you to be in tune with their coping strategies. You will be aware of how they work or don’t work, which will impact on your communication with them and your listening skills. How you talk to them will also affect your relationship during this time.

I consequently allowed my older son to “do his own thing” as he was chilled and had it under control. If he asked me a question then I answered it for him, but otherwise I stayed out of his face. He said he was content to pass and was not prepared to push himself any harder than necessary. (He was true to his word!)

My other—anxious—son, who seemed to lurch from one emotional disaster to another, was a totally different story. I worried about him and I felt his anxiety keenly, but still tried to be supportive, even though he seemed disinterested and unmotivated for most of that year. He found solace in computer games, which were obviously his escape from reality and also his way of procrastinating. There was a light at the end of the tunnel, however, as he completed the year and passed, despite begging me unsuccessfully in Year 11 to allow him to leave school.

Both my sons survived the maelstrom of Year 12 and so did my husband and I, despite what a parent’s worst fears might suggest. Our boys are now both working in careers that they chose, are earning money and are able to support themselves. So there’s an upside—Year 12 is not the be-all and end-all of existence!

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Listen to what they say

As a teacher, I asked my Year 12 students to write about how they would like their parents to support them during this year, and these were some of their responses:

“Let me breathe! If I’m doing work in the office with the door closed or wearing my noise-cancelling headphones, then I’m focused, so don’t disturb me!”

“Keep me informed of plans ahead of time! Don’t surprise me with my aunt’s birthday; I’m planning my work around everything else!”

“I’m sorry if I’m snappy or moody. I’ve got a lot to do and I’m probably very stressed. Don’t take it personally!”

“Please don’t keep reminding me that this is the hardest part of high school. It’s stressful enough, so don’t constantly remind me of how difficult it is!”

Porridge and personality

Have you heard of the Goldilocks principle? This children’s story can apply in some ways to your child as they navigate Year 12. You as a parent know all too well the personality and behaviour of your child. Are they “too hot”? Meaning, are they a high achiever who will burn the midnight oil and be so obsessively focused that you fear for their sanity and your own! Or are they “too cold”—disinterested and need some superhuman effort on your part to encourage them to stay focused and keep on working towards the final goal? Maybe they are “just right” and don’t need much nurturing—they have their goals sorted and have the motivation to keep going until the end. Your child’s personality may not fit neatly into Goldilocks’ porridge bowls, however, as they are unique and have their own particular quirks.

One thing that needs to be stated here is that your child’s navigation through Year 12 does not determine their future success or failure in life. Be reassured.

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How can parents help?

So how does this translate into what parents can do for their children? If you are concerned about your child’s journey through this year and how best to support them, you will be pleased to know that there are plenty of tips and advice out there in Google-land. Here’s a list I’ve compiled, which may help you cope with this “perfect storm” of a year.

#1. A good night’s sleep is important (for all involved). This improves memory, concentration and emotional stability.

#2. Give them healthy food to eat and water to drink. Junk food and fizzy drinks can lead to blood-sugar spikes and crashes, jitters and moodiness. A lack of hydra­tion can lead to headaches. Help your child to avoid stress/comfort eating and to make better choices.

#3. Remind them to have a balanced lifestyle. Yes, an all-night study session is sometimes needed, but generally academic performance will be improved if regular times are set aside for physical activity (preferably in the fresh air of the outdoors), socialising with friends and family, and prayer or other spiritual/personal development activities.

#4. Provide them with a quiet place to study. I’d add “free of distractions” here, but we all know the main distraction is the web-enabled computer they’re using as their key learning tool! Maybe pop in briefly every hour or so with a healthy snack just to check that they’re on task.

#5. Help them create a schedule. Include a weekly timetable as well as a calendar with a series of milestones leading up to major assessments.

#6. Pick the right time to apply pressure. The morning of the exam is not that time! But during the “what went wrong?” post-mortem of a disappointing essay result earlier in the year, your child may be open to improving their approach to upcoming assessments.

#7. Be tolerant and supportive. The stress of Year 12 does not mean all rules of decency and etiquette are out the window, but your child may need a little extra leeway and under­standing.

#8. Encourage them to stay focused and to do their best. “Their best” is like an elite athlete’s “personal best” rather than the Olympic world record. Avoid comparisons to a sibling or last year’s dux (unless your child is realistically on track to dux their class this year—in that case, a bit of healthy competitive spirit may give them the edge they need).

#9. Let them know that you care. Excel, pass or fail, your child needs to know that you love them unconditionally and that the challenges they’re facing matter to you.

#10. Talk to other parents whose children are doing Year 12. It could be beneficial to compare notes on how the adults are dealing with their stressed out, or blasé, child. Kind of like a support group.

Good luck! See you on the other side.

Denise Nelson is a high school English teacher living and working in Adelaide, South Australia.

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