A-Level results: How to be the emotional support your teen really needs
By Katie Wright, PA
A-Level results day can be joyous for some – a time to celebrate their hard work and look forward to the next chapter of their life.
For those who don’t get the grades they were expecting or hoping for, however opening the fateful envelope can spark a range of unpleasant emotions – shock, sadness, regret, and even shame.
“Receiving your A-Level results, or any result at all, can be a tough moment in one’s journey, with the outcome possibly impacting one’s plans for the future,” says Dr Jeri Tikare, clinical psychologist at Kooth Digital Health.
“Bearing this in mind, it’s easy to see how one can be left with tricky feelings if the results do not meet one’s expectations.”
If your teen is unhappy with their results, they’re going to need your support in dealing with the disappointment and navigating their next steps.
Psychology and education experts advise on how you can be there for your child on results day and beyond.
On results day, it can be helpful to deal with the emotional fallout first, before discussing next steps, such as university or career options.
“Make them aware that it is natural and possible to have a mixture of emotions – some of which could include sadness centred around the loss of their dreams of success, anxiety about what the future holds, anger at the self (‘I should have worked harder’), anger at others (‘They did not offer me enough help’), and other emotions,” says Tikare.
Instead of brushing their reactions under the rug, try openly discussing and normalising whatever feelings arise.
“We know that repressing our emotions can lead to heightened stress and anxiety,” says Tikare. “Recognising and acknowledging the emotions that the student is experiencing can serve as an initial step towards effectively addressing them.”
Try to avoid cliches, says Catrin Owen, careers adviser for Working Wales: “Telling someone who’s worked incredibly hard for years towards getting these grades that ‘everything happens for a reason!’ can be like rubbing salt in a wound, and could cause them to become more upset with how their results have turned out.”
Don’t make them feel worse
On the other hand, recriminations aren’t likely to help.
“Rather than focusing on any negativity about exam performance, chances to have revised harder or emphasising what they’ve missed out on, look at all the options and reassure them making a different plan isn’t the end of the world,” Owen adds.
“It’s the start of their future, and there are so many opportunities for them to get excited about – whether that’s finding a different course or uni place, going into a different form of training like an apprenticeship, or deciding to enter the world of work now.”
“Try to resist the urge to ‘save’ the young person,” Tikare says. “Let them know how proud you are of them, that it is not the end of the world and that despite the pain, things like this happen.”
Instead of jumping in and telling your teen exactly what to do now, help them consider their next steps.
“Now the initial emotions have passed, it’s time to make a plan,” says Owen. “Speaking to a professional can really help as they can give an objective and impartial view of the situation, and offer solutions you might not have considered yet.”
“Whether that’s speaking to your school about querying a grade, getting set up with clearing, or contacting a careers adviser – expert guidance can help take the weight off your shoulders as a parent and can reassure you that your child is getting the best help possible.”
If your teen is continuing to struggle in the weeks after results day, encourage them to seek further support if they need it.
“It can be helpful for the student to reach out to trusted people around them, whether it’s a friend, family member, teacher, or counsellor,” says Tikare. “Having someone to talk to can provide emotional support and a listening ear. Remind them that they do not have to go through this alone.”
And finally, Owen adds, “Focus on the positives – planning their future is exciting, even if there are curveballs.”