Do you have a teen in the midst of their HSC years? The final year of schooling is enough to contend with. However, with a global pandemic surrounding us and so much uncertainty about the future, mental health is really impacting our teens now. Olivia Boyle, Registered Psychologist at Let’s Talk Psychology Practice in Turramurra shares some tips for supporting your teen through the HSC.
We all know that the HSC isn’t the be all and end all. In fact, thinking back on those years you may even begin to question what you were so stressed at the time. Life goes on, and one way or another, you build a future and move forward. But just try telling that to your past self. Would you have listened? As a parent, it is important to listen to your child and empathise with their stresses and concerns. In hindsight, they will form their own thoughts and feelings about this time in their life. But in the moment, it’s important you guide them through their journey and give them the support they need.
Parents are showing significant concern about the increase of mental health issues currently being experienced by young people on Sydney’s North Shore. Under normal circumstances, Year 12 can be a challenging year. Of course, with the added pressure of online learning, lockdown and Covid-19 stress, Year 12 students across all schools are currently particularly vulnerable.
It’s recommended that the parents in our community pay particular attention to the mental health of their child. On top of this, parents of current Year 12 students should be having frequent discussions with their child about their emotional wellbeing. Below are some tips on how to best have this discussion.
Tips to support your teen through the HSC
1. Ask open-ended questions
Encourage that they open up to you by asking gentle and supportive open-ended questions about their emotional and mental health. You want to encourage a lengthy response, rather than just a one-word answer. For example, “I’ve noticed you’ve been really quiet and not hanging out with your friends lately. What’s going on?”
2. Recognise their emotions
Recognise and validate their emotions. Doing this, you are showing them you are listening by reflecting it back onto them. You can never validate too much when it comes to a teenager – it helps them feel both heard and understood. For example, “I can hear that you’re feeling sad, this must be really hard for you”.
3. Listen (without judgement!)
The key to building these conversations is active listening. Pay attention to what your teenager is telling you, and then respond without judgement. It is all too easy to want to rush to their aid and offer solutions, but the best thing you can do is listen and let them know you are there for them. By doing this, you are encouraging them to continue to talk and open up.
4. Offer support
Don’t wait for them to ask for help. Offer support and ask if there is anything you can do to help them cope. Some teenagers struggle to open up and share how they are feeling, and may prefer to open up to a stranger.
You can offer to book an appointment for them with a mental health professional if that would make them feel more comfortable. This could be with a school counsellor, your regular family GP, or a registered psychologist. Alternatively, they could call kids helpline on 1800 551 800.
5. Ask the tough questions, too
There are some questions you may be too afraid to ask. Perhaps you don’t want to hear the answer and are worried about how they might respond. But you shouldn’t be afraid to ask the tough questions, as it shows your teenager you are open to discussing anything and nothing is off-limits.
- “Are you feeling a sense of hopelessness?”
- “Have you ever had thoughts about wanting to hurt yourself?”
6. Tell them you love them unconditionally
Remind your child that they are loved, and this love is unconditional, not based upon a mark or ATAR. It’s something they need to hear again and again, so don’t be afraid of overdoing it. Keep reminding them how much you care for them with the words, “I love you, and I’m here for you”.
7. Take time out to do things together
During this stressful period, a great way to support your teen through the HSC is to spend time together doing mutually positive activities. It can be hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel in the throes of the HSC. Just like we need breaks from work to destress and collect our thoughts, our kids need the same opportunities. For example, go for a walk together, have a celebratory dinner to recognise their study efforts, go to the movies or engage in another fun activity, hobby or game together.
8. Provide context
Remind your child that the HSC is an opportunity and not a ‘be all and end all’ situation. You don’t want to devalue how they are feeling, but you do want to gently remind them that no matter whether they achieve their desired ATAR, there are other options for them.
9. Remind your child that difficult periods end
Remind your child that difficult emotional periods will not last forever. It’s about building resilience in our children and letting them know that in a few months this will all be over, and they will be picking the next exciting adventure in their lives.
10. Life starts after school!
Remind your child that life can truly start to begin following graduating from school, and there is much to experience and look forward to beyond the school gates. Get them excited about plans for the future – travel, socialising, earning money etc can all be very exciting prospects for young people.
As always, if you are concerned about the mental health of your child, please make an appointment with your GP, and ask them to organise a referral to see a psychologist.
Let’s Talk Psychology Practice is a private psychology practice with two locations in Turramurra & North Turramurra on Sydney’s Upper North Shore. They provide a range of psychological services to children, adolescents, prenatal/postnatal women and adults presenting with emotional, lifestyle, and behavioural concerns.
If you have concerns that your child is suicidal, access urgent support by contacting Emergency Services (000), or presenting to your local Emergency Department.