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Does academic pressure motivate teens to do better?

Young girl sitting at desk with notebook, books, and coffee

How much pressure produces positive academic outcomes and how much is too much? It’s the question a lot of parents grapple with as their children enter the later years of high school.

Most parents have the best of intentions for their children but a laser focus on test scores doesn’t always produce the best results. In fact, putting too much focus on academic performance can produce the opposite of the intended effect.

If you’re one of those parents who is obsessed with how the scaling system works, drills your child at the dinner table, or expects top-of-the-class marks on every WACE exam, be prepared for tears – and they’ll probably be yours. Creating the right environment at home is key to getting the best results – and putting your child on the path to academic success throughout their university career.

What not to do

Nagging never works. According to Marilyn Price-Mitchell, PhD in an article in Psychology Today, nagging sets up a power struggle between you and your child. When one of you wins, the other loses. No matter how you look at it, it’s an overall loss for your family.

While you want to encourage the student in your family to do well, going overboard puts your child in a situation where stress begins to have a negative impact. Side effects from unchecked stress are counterproductive to learning, including low motivation, sleep problems, and the inability to focus or concentrate.

Making a positive contribution to university test scores

Parental and familial support has a big impact on physical and emotional health. Students who experience this kind of assistance do better on test results and have better mental health overall. This is especially vital for the rigorous testing required for university exams.

Here are five practical ways you can provide a supportive study environment for your teenager:

  1. Make sure there’s plenty of healthy food in the house. Snacks like fresh fruit, vegetables, hummus, peanut butter, hard-boiled eggs, yogurt and nuts will keep their body and brain nourished.
  2. Work out a schedule in advance to check in. Plan a 15-minute break with your teen that involves an activity like walking outside, playing with a pet or chatting over a coffee to release the pressure valve. If they’re struggling to stay motivated, it might be a good time to chat about career plans to keep them thinking about long-term goals.
  3. Keep caffeine, energy drinks and junk food to a minimum. Foods high in fat, sugar and salt kill energy levels and impede learning.
  4. Insist on regular sleep. It might seem like a good idea to pull an all-nighter, but a sleep-deprived brain is dysfunctional. Cramming for an exam stores information in their short-term memory but they need long-term memory to do well on their exams.
  5. Remind them there’s more than one pathway to enter university. While getting a good score is important, it’s not a last resort for a successful university experience.

The added benefit to being supportive

The more you encourage your child to think and act freely, the better equipped they’ll be for the university environment. They’ll soon be expected to act independently and won’t have the benefit of your guidance. Preparing them to be curious and self-motivated now will give them the qualities they’ll need throughout their lives. 

For more advice about how to create a supportive environment for your teen as they approach university, check out our events and resources designed for parents and families, or come along to one of our Open Nights or parent info evenings

Posted on:

9 May 2019

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