Principal's Blog

Posted on September 03, 2018

Help you and your teen keep stress and well-being in check over the coming months.

Dr Nancy Hillier

Year 12 can be a stressful time for students, parents and carers. This year Pittwater House hosted a workshop facilitated by Psychologist Dr Wendy Nield, who presented strategies parents can use to assist their teenagers. With the HSC fast approaching, we would like to recap on her main points here to help you and your teen keep stress and well-being in check over the coming months.

Keep it in perspective

First, an ATAR score does not define your teen. It is a measurement of their ability at a particular time in particular circumstances, and it doesn’t determine their future happiness.

Second, this is not the most important year of your teen’s life. They have a wonderful life ahead of them, full of many adventures, so try not to think of this as the be-all-end-all.

Finally, the most important thing you can do in the lead up to, and during, the HSC is to help your teenager be kind to themselves.

Year 12 can feel like a long-haul for teens and parents. You and your teen may find it useful to write down or draw their goals so you can both remember why it is they’re doing all of this! We all have different motivations, and it can be useful to have a way to reconnect with those if your teen gets a little lost along the way.

Taking care of #1

Some stress is perfectly fine. In fact, it keeps us motivated! Self-awareness is important so you and your teen are aware of their own personal red flags when it comes to heightened stress levels. They may get headaches, for example, or their muscles may feel tense, or they may have trouble sleeping. Each of us is different, so try to be mindful of your teenager’s signs.

There’s an expression, ‘When your body moves, your brain grooves’, so if you ever needed an excuse to encourage your teen to get active, here it is: It’ll help them study! Whether they enjoy sports, swimming, jogging, yoga or walking the dog, try to ensure they include physical activity in their daily routine. Their brain will thank you.

As well as getting active, sleep is a huge factor in mental well-being and the ability to concentrate and remember. In fact, it’s as important as air to breathe and water to drink.

To help your teenager get good quality sleep, they should avoid coffee and tea in the afternoon and evening, be sure to get up at the same time each morning, and avoid naps during the day. Screens should be turned off long before sleep.

There are many other tips and tricks to help your teenprioritise their well-being. Consider presenting them with some of these ideas to work into their routine:

● Do what they love! Is it painting? Baking? Dancing like nobody’s watching? Whatever it is, make sure they make time to do it.

● Connect with people. Encourage them to talk with friends or family, and keep their support network strong. Don’t forget that their friends probably need help too!

● Do a ‘brain dump’. Urge them to make a list of everything they have to do, then go back and prioritise.

● Keep a journal, and regularly jot down what’s on their mind, including anything they are concerned about.

● Try meditation. They can even use an app like Smiling Mind.

● Be active and get their ZZZs!

If your teen ever feels overwhelmed or anxious, there are people and resources to help them. They can contact their form teacher or school counsellor, or check out Youth Beyond Blue. They have great information and an online chatroom, and are also available on 1300 22 46 36.

Getting in the zone and getting it done

Studying for the HSC shouldn’t take over your teenager’s life (or yours!). There are ways to ensure that they study smarter, not harder, and leave plenty of time for other things in life.

Although many students are tempted to make study time feel less stressful by working with TV, music or social media in the background, this in fact makes study more stressful than it needs to be.

Not only do distractions mean that studying takes far longer than necessary, but research shows that students who have social media running in the background while studying achieve marks 20% lower than those of students who study without the distraction of their favourite platform!

One trick to effective study is short bursts of focus. Your teen might like to try studying for 50 minutes, taking a 10-minute break (a great opportunity to do something physical) and then studying for another 50 minutes.

Study using these short bursts of focussed activity is sometimes called the Pomodoro technique. A timer is handy to avoid ‘clock watching’. There is an online Pomodoro timer called ‘Tomato Timer’.

Every student has different personal, family and work commitments to uphold, so the time of day your teen chooses to study should be right for them. That said, ideally it shouldn’t be too late in the evening as this can impact the quality of sleep, and of course, concentration will be low as they becomes tired.

Whatever time you and your teen choose, consider establishing a routine for them to study five days per week. The fewer decisions that need to be made every day about when to study, the less stressed you’ll both feel.

Here’s a quick checklist for creating a great study environment:

● Declutter the study zone. Don’t let your teen use this as an excuse to procrastinate, just get it done!

● Create a routine for studying, five days per week.

● Encourage short bursts of focussed study. Try the Pomodoro technique.

● Eliminate distractions, including TV, radio, social media and phones.

If your teen tends to drift over to social media without even realising it, there’s an app for that! Actually there are plenty. There are even Chrome extensions, like StayFocusd, that block certain sites for periods during study time.

Remember. Putting a plan in place now will ensure that your child studies smarter, rather than harder, to achieve their goals. Lastly, be sure to always give their well-being top priority. Despite any pressure your teen feels during Year 12, it’s vital to remind them that you want them to be safe and happy above all else.