My son has been writing his class 12 exams during the last two weeks and it has been a stressful period for everybody at home. His strong dislike of rote learning (which is unfortunately the norm in the Indian education system) and lack of a visible study schedule/plan exacerbated the situation. Also, the emphasis on core subjects meant that he had neglected the three non-core subjects (fourth optional and languages) which increased the pressure in the days just before the exams began. While the board exams ended yesterday, he is not out of the woods yet—a series of entrance exams (for admission to engineering schools) loom ahead and they significantly add to the stress. To further complicate an already complex situation, kids today are surrounded by a number of distractions in the form of mobile phones, tablets, and social networking sites.
As a parent, I wanted to support my son through this crucial and difficult phase and I diligently and dutifully Google-searched using key words like ‘supporting your child through exams’, ‘helping your child beat exam stress’ etc., and tried to follow the advice faithfully. However, I would like to say here that it is not easy to help kids through this phase as some of their requests/behaviour is inappropriate, to say the least. Sample this:
- Joint study: my son wanted to go to his friend’s house to ‘study’ at 5 pm on the day before his Sanskrit exam. The said friend lives around 10 kms away and reaching his house would entail navigating one of the most trafficked roads in Bangalore.
- Eating out: craving for junk food (read street food) increased exponentially. In line with what I had read during my research, I tried to entice him to eat nutritious food but my efforts were in vain.
- Messaging: on the day of his chemistry exam, group chat began at 2:30 am and went on sporadically till well past 5 am. In the quiet of the night I was woken up by his phone vibrating intermittently….but my son blissfully slept through his friends’ attempts to wake him up! He later told me that his friends slept at 11 pm and woke at 2:30 am to study for the chemistry exam. Chemistry is universally dreaded as the Karnataka board has adopted the CBSE syllabus where the chemistry syllabus is extremely voluminous. I have long insisted that losing sleep in the last few days before the exams and while they are going on is not advisable and my son has always readily accepted this dictum with none of his usual arguments!
- Caffeine: consumption of caffeine increased tremendously making him jittery and unable to focus; so much so, that I banned aerated drinks and restricted coffee intake to three cups a day.
Refusing some of his requests resulted in some royal battles with the usual refrain of “you don’t understand”, “no other parent is as interfering as you” etc., but ultimately my son did see sense. In addition to all the advice I read online, I have come up with my own list based on my experience of helping my son through this difficult time:
- Let them study wherever they want: do not insist that your teen should study at their table.
- Prepare junk food at home in small quantities: junk/fried food apparently “keeps them going” and home-made junk food has the added benefit of being hygienically prepared. However, do ensure that nutrition is not compromised.
- Ensure that they get adequate physical exercise: a jog around the neighbourhood park works wonders for their general demeanour.
- Sit with them when they request you to: this calms them down, especially when they are feeling nervous.
- Listen to them when they talk of unrelated issues: while this can be construed as a clever way of avoiding academics, one has to concede that students do need a break from monotony. Gently coax them to get back to their studies and subtly indicate that these discussions need to be limited in time as well as number.
- Let friends come over once in a while: allowing my son to discuss some boring topics with his friends really helped. That said, it is important to ensure that the discussion does not digress too much to non-academic areas.
- Fix a time for chat/messaging/Facebook: try and convince them to take time off from social networking sites and other online forums. If this does not work, agree on a fixed amount of time for these activities.
- Request that devices should be on silent mode and out of sight during study time: this will take some convincing!
- Ensure that they take a sufficient number of small breaks: this helps them recharge and improves concentration.
- Sleep: ensure that they get enough sleep during the run-up to the exams and while they are going on.
- Make allowances: teens who take up these exams are under tremendous pressure and parents need to understand this and make allowances for it.
- Ensure that you are approachable: cultivate a supportive attitude so that they can come to you when they are in difficulties.
- Remain calm: do not communicate your anxiety to your teen.
While helping teens through this career defining phase is crucial, it is also very important to ensure that they realize that it is not the end of the world if they don’t fare well. Discuss alternative career paths based on your teen’s interests and talents. Reassure them that not obtaining a place in the course of their choice in a premier institution can often be a stepping stone to a more fulfilling and rewarding career. Talk to them about people who have ‘failed’, and then gone on to scale the heights of their chosen profession—Nobel laureate Venkatraman Ramakrishnan comes to mind here.