16 year old Callum Graham, from Leadgate in County Durham

Parents, leave us kids alone!

A County Durham teenager is offering advice to parents and teens on handling stress during the busy exam period, after research from the country’s flagship youth programme reveals teens in the North East prefer their parents to leave them alone during revision and focus their energy on finding exciting activities for them to do once their exams are finished.

New research suggests 78% of teens expect exam stress to have negative impacts to their appearance, health or mental state in some way during the revision period, with many eating more or less than usual, not showering or changing their clothes, and others not leaving the house for days. Stress will even cause some teens to sit alone in the dark in angst[i], whereas others may show signs of anger[ii].

Janey Downshire, specialist in teenage development from Teenagers Translated, says: “Witnessing these often concerning changes can be difficult for parents and it can be very hard not to jump in and get involved. However, whilst it’s important to keep an eye on any dramatic changes in appetite, sleep patterns and behaviours, sometimes being overly involved can inflame the situation even further.”

In fact, one of the best things parents can do to help is to just leave them alone until they’re ready to talk[iii] or better yet, keep siblings out of the way[iv]… Except when it comes to bringing in regular refreshments[v] cooking their favourite meals[vi] or giving them something to look forward to when it’s all over[vii].

Callum, 16 from Leadgate, admits they struggled to cope with stress during the exam period but their saviour was having something to look forward to post exams. Following his own experience on the NCS programme in summer 2015, Callum is urging teens and their parents to remember that there is life beyond exam stress and recommends planning a unique and life-changing experience such as NCS.

Open to all 16 and 17 year olds across the North East this summer, NCS offers three weeks of fun and discovery, whilst giving teens the chance to meet new people, take part in physical challenges and learn skills for work and life.

Callum, who studied for his GCSEs at St Bede’s Catholic School in Lanchester, says: “It’s easy to get trapped in the bubble of revision and exams and your day-to-day life is bound to change in order to accommodate the stress you’re feeling or the amount of work you have. Looking back, my own behaviour and attitude did alter and I’m sure those around me noticed the difference, especially my parents. My parents were really supportive and I valued their help but I often found it easier to be left to my own devices and revise in the best way that suited me – it was great that my parents understood that, they were going to be proud of me no matter what the result of my exams were.

He adds: “Where my parents really supported me was by allowing me to plan something to look forward to after my exams. Whilst it was a stressful time, having NCS to look forward to after exams made it a lot more bearable and helped to keep me feeling positive. It was a great feeling knowing that once I had worked hard I could go on NCS where I would meet other young people in the same position as me, develop news skills, approach new challenges and start to look beyond exams and revision.”

Callum is now studying mechanical engineering at Derwentside College and has ambitions to obtain an apprenticeship.

For parents, it can be difficult to know exactly the best way to support their teens. Although they may think they have their teen’s best interest at heart it was also found that the most frustrating things parents can do during the revision period include confiscating technology, micromanaging revision calendars or saying things like “shouldn’t you be revising” or “how can you think with that music/YouTuber/screen on” - with one in ten citing parents as their biggest distraction from revision.

National Citizen Service is a three week programme for 16 & 17 year olds taking place this summer across the North East, with an additional 30 hours dedicated to a social action project. The programme helps teens develop skills for work and life including confidence, leadership and resilience, whilst also expanding social networks.

Kimberley Cummings, NCS Recruitment Team Leader for the County Durham area, says: “The exam period is an extremely pressuring and exhausting time for young people and all too often they find it a challenge to see that there is anything beyond exams. It’s important for teens with the support of their parent to realise that there is light at the end of the tunnel. That is why having a programme such as NCS is such a positive experience. It allows 16 & 17 years olds to have something to look forward to, transition away from the exams stress whilst meeting new people and gaining new experiences. It’s reassuring to see so many teens having fun.”

Top 10 worst things parents could say or do during revision period

  1. Shouldn’t you be revising?“ (52%)
  2. “Just do your best” (34%)
  3. “Can you really think with that music on?” (27%)
  4. “How can you work with all those screens on?” (23%)
  5. “If you’ve put in the time you’ll be ok”(19%)
  6. Confiscate your mobile phone (19%)
  7. “Exams are so much easier these days” (15%)
  8. Saying things like “Is that YouTuber really helping with your revision” (13%)
  9. Pretending to know more than they do (10%)
  10. Micromanaging your revision calendar (9%)

Top 10 revision rituals

  1. Rewarding yourself with snacks or treats (24%)
  2. Highlighting way more than necessary (15%)
  3. Reading everything out loud to yourself (15%)
  4. Putting notes or post its around the house (10%)
  5. Using exactly the same pen or certain colour ink every day (9%)
  6. Writing notes in weird places (8%)
  7. Exercising way more than usual (8%)
  8. Using mindfulness or relaxation tools (7%)
  9. Creating songs or raps to remember things (6%)
  10. Only revising at certain times of the day e.g. 1 minute past the hour (5%)

To find out more about National Citizen Service in the North East, call 0191 247 4020 or visit NCSNORTHEAST.co.uk

[i] 7%, [ii] 36%, [iii] 56%, [iv] 27%, [v] 34%, [vi] 26%, [vii] 44%.

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