Need help now?

Study Overwhelm and Reframing Failure

Discussion forum for parents in Australia

Study Overwhelm and Reframing Failure


Study Overwhelm and Reframing Failure

Message contains a hyperlink

Many parents find that the final year of school is a stressful time not only for their teen but for the whole family. It’s normal to feel unprepared and to get caught up in the anxiety your teen is feeling. The final years of school encompass so many more measures of success than academic marks alone. It’s an essential time to learn life skills which are valuable beyond year 12, like creating routines, managing procrastination, prioritising tasks, fostering social connections and taking control of personal wellbeing. While you can’t sit your teen’s exams for them, it’s important to be a consistent and grounding presence in their studies, especially when they are experiencing mental health challenges around their assessments. We’re going to discuss here how you can help your teen with their studies. 


Parental expectations

One thing parents and teens may not see eye-to-eye on is the importance of studies and final exams. Even if a parent never talks about this directly, by adolescence a young person may have internalised ideas about what success looks like from the parent’s perspective. It’s possible for parents to overestimate how important marks are and underestimate options outside of school, or a parent who hasn’t been to university to not be as familiar with the importance of final assessments. 

It can help to understand the underlying values that are at play when there are disagreements. You can ask: what is it that each of you value about doing well in school? What does it mean to not get the desired result? Are you considering an external maker of success? Even if you and your teen value different things, it can help to validate their perspective, and to consider all aspects of their life around studies where balance can be created.


Your relationship with your teen’s studies

Building an ongoing relationship with your teen’s time studying can help you not only check in on their wellbeing, but shows them that you’re someone who they can come to in moments where they’re feeling overwhelmed. Have a look at this comment from the parent of a 2020 HSC student:

My main strategy was to always keep communication open around anything and everything.  I would constantly check in with her and listen to what was going on.  The urge to fix everything was so strong and as a parent you just want to make everything better for your child.  However this just annoyed and aggravated her and deep down I knew that building resilience is very important for a teenager’s development. So I would just listen, listen, listen and validate her feelings. This definitely helped her a lot and she opened up to me more knowing there would be no judgement or unwanted advice. Sometimes just letting her know I was here if she wanted to talk would be enough.

Some ways to support your teen while they’re studying might include:

  • Helping them to map out a routine that works for them
  • Offering support around procrastination, such as holding them accountable to goals they set for themselves
  • Rewarding them for their efforts, not their marks alone
  • Giving them a break from chores or other responsibilities near exams
  • Asking what they would find helpful

If you have found yourself in difficult situations in work or studies, sharing your strategies with your teen can also help them feel like they’re not alone and give them practical suggestions for how to manage their own stress.


When your teen is focusing on failure

Sometimes a teen will have moments where they feel like they’ve failed in their studies and it overwhelms them. When a teen is catastrophising before or after an exam, it’s often instinctual to want to reassure your teen. However, this can be the opposite of helpful, and feel invalidating to the real stress and fear of consequences that may be felt. Instead, you can meet your teen at their level of stress, allowing them to see that you are on their team and are seeking to understand how they’re feeling. This doesn't mean you need to agree with them if they seem to be overestimating the likelihood that they have done badly, but it helps to really listen to and seek to understand how they are feeling. Asking questions about what they think contributed to the failure can allow your teen to reflect on the skills they need to develop or consider reevaluating their own expectations. 

If your teen has always struggled with studying, perhaps they need to get extra help, routine, or reconsider their after-school pathways. There are many alternatives to university which are often not emphasised by the schooling system, such as taking a gap year, seeking work, or TAFE. Giving these alternatives and reframing failure as a delay, rather than an end, may help your teen to relax and be able to work their hardest regardless, especially if you can provide examples of people who have done the same. 


Resources from ReachOut

Supporting your teen with study stress

Mindsets and learning from failure

Work through problems with your teenager

Talking to your teen about disappointment


With these suggestions in mind, we wish you and your teens luck on their final exams!