Teens and study: How can parents help?

Helping teens study

When it comes to teens and exam prep (or the lack thereof!), procrastination can be a challenge for parents.

It may help to remember that some people procrastinate because they’re anxious. As parents, we can lend our teens some calm and perspective, reminding them that exams really only measure how well they can do an exam, not their worth as a person.

Let them know that exams are important and that good results will help, but try not to add to the pressure. In reality, nearly every student will encounter things in an exam they can do and things they cannot do – the more they study, the more the balance will tip towards things they can do!

We can also remind our kids that their job is simply to do the best they can. “I’ll give it a go” is a much more productive and helpful statement than, “I can’t do this.”

Where to start

Some kids procrastinate because they simply do not know where to begin. You might be able to help by giving them some direction here, and suggesting some ways to study:

• Make a list of points from this page.

• Answer this question from this test paper from last year.

• Make lists of all the topics in your notes that you have to study and then we’ll make up a study timetable.

Bite-sized chunks

Any teenager facing ten hours of solid study is going to lock up with dread. It is hugely helpful to have scheduled breaks. One technique that can work really well is to set a timer for fifteen minutes and then set the challenge:

See how much you can do in 15 minutes – when the timer goes off, have a stretch. Next time, have a glass of water. After four 15-minute bursts, have a longer break.

Create some space

Having a quiet and clear space for study is really important. Your teens may need a break from chores for a bit, and other family members need to be cued to be considerate and quiet. And while some grace around chores will certainly help your teen time-wise, so will some practical boundaries around other - more fun - things that might compete for their attention during exam time. Basically ‘study break’ does not mean ‘holiday’, so teens might need some help saying “not right now” to social distractions.

Not every waking hour has to be spent studying of course – that would be counter-productive. But non-study activities should be put on hold until a decent amount of time has been spent on revision. The same goes for distracting technology. A complete tech blackout wouldn’t actually be helpful, as much of the study will in fact be happening online. What could help though, is supporting your teen to put in place a plan that enhances focused study time, with the reward of social media and movies after the work has been done.

How’s your algebra?

It might have been a while since we parents did algebra or chemistry, but we can still help our teens study… even if we don’t really understand it!

Check in with your teen, pick up their notes, and ask them to explain to you what they know of the topic.

Let them know why you are doing this: it is not to check up on them, but to help them, because sometimes the best way to make facts ‘stick’ in your brain is to explain them to someone else.  Watch some YouTube videos with your student – there are dozens of videos on how to prepare for exams, with lots of different tips and techniques. The reason you watch with them is to be able to say, “That looks good. Let’s try that!” and to then turn the computer off. The problem with YouTube is that it's quite captivating and before you know it, you have spent three hours watching cat videos and Fail Army.

The thing is, almost any technique that gets your child sorting and sifting through their notes will be of value. It is good to also talk about exam techniques. The most basic one is to go through the whole exam first and work out what you can do easily and what you cannot, and then dividing your time up wisely. Old exam papers are very useful for practising with.

The problem with YouTube is that it's quite captivating and before you know it, you have spent three hours watching cat videos and Fail Army.

And of absolute key importance – students need to know exactly when and where their exams are. Every year kids turn up at the wrong place or time.

Exams are the biggest thing some kids have ever faced so move in close and support your child emotionally. With a teenager, that usually just means being there and being available. And providing snacks and meals. Not many teens express their stress and worry elegantly – it often surfaces as grumpiness or sulkiness, but as wise and seasoned parents, you know that just means there are some big feelings happening beneath the surface and pressure is mounting. And fair enough too.

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Parenting Place

For over 25 years, Parenting Place has been here offering support and advice to New Zealand parents. We think that with the right support, parenting any age and stage can be a relatively stress-free and fun experience. You're doing great!

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