The end of high school is an exciting time for Year 12 students. It can also be a time fraught with overwhelming stresses like anxiety and depression – add the pressure of applying to university, it’s natural for parents to worry about their children.
Knowing what to look for and having a good strategy for how to support your child are the first steps to ensuring the stresses can be managed before they get out of hand.
There’s no doubt our children are facing more stress than in previous generations. Research from the Black Dog Institute about youth mental health in Australia shows mental illness is one of the biggest challenges of the twenty-first century. Risk increases as adolescents age, becoming most prevalent in the older teen years. Coping with stress is cited as the number one concern for children across all age groups and in both genders.
The good news is children aged 15-19 are comfortable getting help from their parents, so don’t wait for them to ask. You can take the lead.
What are the warning signs for stress in teens?
Your child may not realise they’re experiencing anxiety or depression, but they will be able to identify symptoms. Many of them will be obvious to you, too. Some of the common signs of stress include:
- Sleep issues – too much or too little
- Social isolation or changes in social habits
- Low motivation
- Difficulty concentrating
- Lack of self-control
- Inability to focus and concentrate
- Headaches and stomach aches
- Frequent illness
How parents can help
If your child is feeling pressure to perform academically – to get a high ATAR score or do well on exams – you may see elevated levels of stressful behaviour. Year 12 students can get caught in a perfection trap, especially girls, and they often need parental support to help them find a manageable balance for their studies, social life and family obligations. Talk to them to find out if they have realistic expectations for career planning.
Dr Charlotte Keating is a psychologist with a PhD in neuroscience, specialising in adolescent behaviour. She provided seven proven ways to reduce stress.
- Sleep eight hours a night
- Exercise for 30 minutes a day
- Fuel your brain with healthy food by following the Mediterranean diet
- Take time out of every day to relax
- Take regular study breaks
- Practice mindfulness
- Make sure to put things in perspective
Become a wellness coach for your child in Year 12
Partner with your Year 12 student to work on a stress reduction plan. Make sure to:
- Stock the fridge with healthy snacks like fresh fruit and vegetables, hummus, yogurt, nuts and seeds. Your child should be eating well and eating often.
- Provide lots of water. Make your own infused water to keep it interesting for your teen and keep them hydrated without a lot of sugar or artificial sweeteners.
- Encourage them to push away from the desk every couple of hours. Take a walk or cycle with them, spend time with a family pet, or put on music.
- Make sure they’re connecting with friends and family and doing something they love every day, if only for a little while.
- Get them to download mindfulness apps. Dr. Keating recommends Smiling Mind and Headspace as good free resources.
Helping your child gain perspective
Remind your child they are not their WACE. Year 12 measures their performance at one point in time. It is not a test of intelligence or capability. ATAR and WACE do not predict their capacity to succeed in life. There are many pathways to university.
Other strategies for managing stress
If your Year 12 student is still feeling overwhelmed, don’t hesitate to engage external support. This can include finding a tutor, contacting the counselling centre at their high school or chatting with your local university. Check with your GP about free services in your community. If you have private health insurance, it may offer benefits to help your whole family cope with stress.
Every child working towards an ATAR or studying for exams is going to be feeling more stress than usual. Have a plan on how to alleviate that stress and let them know you’re there to support them, not to put more pressure on them.