The past two years have been a boot camp in resilience for all of us – but for Year 12s and their families it has been a particularly challenging time.

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.

Don't "back in my day" them

If you completed Year 12, you’ll remember all too well what a pressure-filled and confusing time it is. But it's not helpful to remind them of how hard you had it "back in your day".

We’ve also collectively felt the difficulties of the global pandemic. But we can only imagine what it’s been like for the class of 2021 – to have felt those significantly taxing events happen concurrently. Give your child credit for surviving this particularly difficult Year 12.

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!”

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

How to keep communication open

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 Ms Stutterd.

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

Signs to look out for

Ms Stutterd outlines the three key stress indicators to look out for that students may need some extra support, from you, a friend or a professional:

  • 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

Ms Stutterd says adding your own expectations and interfering will not help. 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 your student – or their future! No matter their final score, there are numerous pathways to their dream course, many which will take no additional time, and can, in fact, give them a great preparation for uni and their career.

Keep in mind, if your child is attending a VU partner school and they have joined the VU Guaranteed program, they will have a guaranteed place at VU (or VU Polytechnic) before sitting final exams.

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?

VU Bachelor of Business graduate Emilia Ambrosio admits she initially chose a course just because it used up her ATAR.

After school, I studied speech pathology at another institution. I felt pressured to ‘use up’ my ATAR, but it soon became clear that I’d chosen the wrong career path. I changed to VU and it has been life changing. My advice to others? Don’t force yourself into a career you don’t love just because it’s expected of you. You might start to think you’re not intelligent or studious – but it could be that you haven’t experienced what you love doing.

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

Discover options galore for 2022!

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 contributor

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 together with her own two children.