This year has been a boot camp in resilience for all of us – but for Year 12s and their families 2020 has been particularly challenging.

As your child’s schooling ends, adulthood approaches – along with all the responsibilities that entails. This means big decisions about further studies and careers.

We sat down with provisional psychologist Frances Stutterd and got some great advice about how to support your Year 12 through exams, results and next steps for the future.

We also chatted with VCE student Joseph and his mum Angela and discovered their unique perspective and how they're making it work in 2020.

Understand that you don't understand

If you did Year 12 back in the day, you’ll remember all too well what a pressure-filled and confusing time it is.

We’ve also collectively felt the difficulties of a global pandemic this year. But we can only imagine what it’s been like for the class of 2020 – to have felt those significantly taxing events happen concurrently. Give your child credit for surviving a Year 12 like no other.

Provisional psychologist Frances Stutterd says:

“Year 12 is notoriously stressful – but Covid-19 has driven students away from the classroom and friends in a way that’s hard for adults to comprehend. Young people learn and grow so much from being together. The end of school also usually coincides with certain rites of passage, which they’ve also missed. So if they’re out of sorts – that’s to be expected!”

Year 12 mum Angela agrees: “This year has been extra tough on all of us, especially Joey. It feels like he’s not quite himself. Next year when the restrictions ease, we look forward to him getting a fresh start – starting uni, getting back out in the world and meeting new friends.”

This year has been even more difficult than ever for Year 12s.

Opening lines of communication

Young people have a reputation for shutting out those closest to them when things get tough. They may be feeling pressured, micromanaged, or misunderstood – or in a power struggle as they’re so close to achieving independence. Finding a low-pressure way ‘in’ is a great start to supporting them.

Frances says, “Start a conversation. Offer your own feelings first, for example, ‘I’m feeling a bit stressed about all of this, how about you?’ or, ‘You seem a bit preoccupied, are you okay?’”

It’s also crucial to spend time together talking about things other than school and reinforce the positive aspects of your relationship.

“Going for a walk together with the dog, shooting hoops, washing the dishes, even watching TV together: activities like these take the spotlight off them and make it easier to chat – about anything,” says Frances.

Mum Angela is walking that fine line: “As parents, it’s tricky. If I’m too encouraging he thinks I’m on his back. But if we back off too much we worry he won’t get his work done. It’s a balancing act.”

Getting out and about and chatting about non-school stuff can help keep communication lines open.

Signs to look out for

Year 12 student Joey has definitely experienced stress this year.

“The most stressful part of VCE is the huge expectations placed on us. We’re expected to make studying our top priority, but people forget we're 17-18 year-olds who also want to have a social life and a part-time job,” he says.

Frances outlines the three key stress indicators that they may need some extra support:

  • Physical: tightness of chest, upset tummy, racing heart, lethargy (lack of sleep).
  • Mental: obsessive thoughts, catastrophising (worst-case scenario thoughts).
  • Behavioural: avoiding situations, withdrawing, aggression, crankiness.

Look out for signs of stress.

Drop the pressure

Angela has discovered pressure doesn’t work. “These kids already feel a heavy expectation without our interference. The teachers are onto him and he’s doing his best so our nagging doesn’t help!”

Frances says there are ways to alleviate the pressure, like rewarding milestones and taking regular breaks – particularly away from the screen outdoors even for short periods of time.

When looking ahead to next year think of VU’s award-winning learning model – the VU Block Model – as the “less stress, more success” approach. Students complete just one subject at a time over four weeks (rather than the four subjects over 12 weeks at other universities) so they have greater focus, frequent feedback, and smaller classrooms with more support from teachers.

They'll feel happier and more productive after taking regular breaks and mini rewards.

If results don't go to plan...

Before and after they get their results, reiterate that their ATAR does not define them – or their future! No matter their final score, there are numerous pathways their dream course, many which will take no additional time, and can, in fact, give them a great preparation for uni and their career.

Attending a VU partner school, Joey has a safety net in the VU Guaranteed program. This means he has his place guaranteed at VU (or VU Polytechnic) now – before sitting his final exams. Of course, his options are open, but it gives him the extra sense of security that reduces his stress.

“The largest benefit of VU Guaranteed for me is that I know regardless of my ATAR, I will be going to university next year. It’s quite a scary thought having nowhere to go, but this provides security and comfort to students who are probably the most stressed out they've ever been.”

ATAR is just a number: there are multiple pathways into your child's dream course.

Avoid the high-score preference trap

It’s a common misconception that students should ‘use up’ their ATAR score – applying for the course with the highest ATAR requirement possible.

But the most important question students should ask themselves is, what will I enjoy studying and doing as a career for at least the next few years?

Joey’s making decisions about his profession based on what he enjoys, and what comes naturally.

“I’m keen to study psychology as I want to make a difference in people’s lives through my career.”

Encourage them to follow what they enjoy doing – not only what they're good at.

Discover options galore for 2021!

Book a 1:1 chat with a course adviser and register for our Change of Preference virtual event. Discover all the study options and course pathways available, and why the VU Block Model is the 'less-stress, more success' approach.

Get in touch or register

About the contributors

Frances Stutterd is a provisional psychologist with Victoria University, working at the VU Psychology Clinic. She has extensive experience as a telephone supporter for Lifeline Australia and Sands Australia (miscarriage and infant loss support). Frances is not only an experienced counsellor, she is a parent in-the-know – surviving VCE stress with her own two children.

Mother and son Angela and Joseph Gattellaro are surviving 2020 along with three other members of their household. Joey is the eldest of three siblings and attends Thomas Carr College.