Being a parent of a 16 year-old is difficult. This not-quite adult who has emerged from the child you knew and now fills your home with their mess, their technology obsession and their opinions. There’s the nascent next-stages, the blossoming relationships (or not), the faltering first steps into the world of work (or not) and the seamless switching between total independence and complete dependence.
Then, amongst all this detritus of normal life, falls the meteorite that is exams. Days and days of cajoling, pleading, feigned disinterest and obvious anxiety – and that’s just you! And when it’s all over, the feeling of relief – you’re free! Or are you?
Suddenly the bright, sunny end of August has taken on a subtly darker hue because that’s when the all-important results come out. Sure, go on holiday to celebrate the end of school – do the prom thing, the college-open day thing, the visiting relatives barbecue thing and kid yourself that you’re not thinking about the results at all … but it’s there, right at the back of your mind, waiting (as the late, great Sir Terry Pratchett said) like a rake in the grass.
All this worry, all this stress and they’re not even our exams. We must remember that. However much the 16 year-old in your life seems not to care – they do. They sat the exams, they (probably) did the revision, they were on the receiving end of the endless pestering, study tips, well-meant good luck cards and dire warnings of failure. These are their results and they really do matter to them.
And there’s no point comparing their grades to your own either. Quite apart from the changes that have occurred over the vast gulf of years (I know – none of us look our age) there’s also the fact that GCSEs are now, for some reason, graded using numbers that don’t quite correlate with the previous lettering system. Is a ‘4’ a ‘C-‘? Why is ‘9’ the highest? Who knows! As if adding a star to an ‘A ‘ wasn’t odd enough.
On results day the important thing is to focus on the real results. Not the results you were secretly hoping to brag about – that finally prove that you are, at least genetically, clever, not those unrealistic, unattainable results that your child was dreaming of, but the actual results right there on the paper.
The grades you see on results day are the ones that your 16-year-old has achieved – good, bad or indifferent and it’s too late to change them. Perhaps it will mean re-sits, perhaps celebration, whatever the outcome it is better to focus on the positives: The effort expended, the commitment and improvement and the valuable lessons learned.
We should also bear in mind that the outcomes that are important to us are not necessarily what will have the biggest impact on our children. Look at your child, not the results and pay close attention to their reactions before cheering or chiding. Despite my parents’ pleasure at my GCSE results it was the ‘D’ in Art that I was focused on (yeah, thanks Mr Ramsden, it still hurts).
Lastly, we have to remember that exams and results are not the be-all and end-all. Exams do not define teenagers any more than our jobs define us as adults. Remember all that ’detritus’? The relationships, the chores, the socializing, the hobbies and interests? Those things are as important, if not more important, because they are what make us whole human beings.
Our job as parents of these amazing, fragile, emerging adults is the same as it has always been – to deal realistically with what is in front of us and to provide our children with the best tools available to cope with whatever comes their way. On results day be present, be realistic, be kind – be what your 16 year-old needs.
MiSP is running a Parents & Carers focussed 8-week mindfulness course this September and our new curriculum .breathe is aimed at children going through the transition period.