You can't do it for them, but you can be there for your stressed Year 12

You can't do it for them, but there are some things that help.
You can't do it for them, but there are some things that help. Photo: Supplied

As penance for being lax with baby-spacing, my two eldest kids were in consecutive school years, so I have enjoyed the unique pleasure (pain) of going through the year 11-12 stress marathon for three years straight.

The mantras pushed at you by schools are, "You are not the sum of your ATAR", "There are plenty of pathways to get where you want to go", and "Don't allow study-load stress to blow the importance of the eventual result out of proportion".

You hear these messages from way back in about Year 9, when kids have to start choosing their subjects. "Don't stress," they say, even as schools market themselves like mad on the percentage of very high achieving students they pump out.

Schools know their pulling power depends on kids getting high marks, and parents and kids are well aware, especially as year 11 cranks up and many start the year 12 subjects, this score is an important determinant of their opportunities – at least in the short term.

When you are 17 or 18, the short term is the only term.  When you are a parent who may have just plugged upwards of $150k into your child's secondary education – don't get me started on if I think this is worth it – it's a struggle to believe the ATAR is just another "milestone".

Let's face it, it is no less competitive than The Hunger Games; so competitive, I know of parents in good jobs who take the entire year off to support their year 12 kid.

And no wonder. By mid July, the presence in the home of the HSC/VCE is as real to all concerned, as Princess Diana famously said Camilla Parker-Bowles was in her marriage to Charles.

Unless your child is unusually blessed with organisational skills, stoicism/perspective and a huge side of aptitude for stress management while taking on ridiculous amounts of information, the strain really kicks in right about this time of each year.

You may have considered cutting back your work hours or working from home more so you can be there after school to make sure they're managing their study time.


You may be reading all of their English books and large amounts of commentary on said texts. This is an especially cruel rabbit hole for parents who did their own years 12 decades back and cannot accept essay styles have moved on so far your strategies are largely useless.

You may be attending long seminars by experts hired by the school to advise how to take notes,  schedule study by subject (make a weekly calendar, put it on the wall and stick to it), how to summarise and self-test. You may be revisiting your old maths or language skills trying to give them some, any, kind of edge.

You'll definitely be attending that wellbeing talk about how to help your child stay connected to life outside study, see friends, have downtime, relax, do their sport, sleep, exercise and eat properly.

I did all of the above; hovered, cooked 24/7, drove and drove and drove young men to and from school hoping a tiny sleep-in or a quicker return home would help, even a bit.

I maintained Olympic levels of vigilance for 10 months at a stretch, on high alert to any sign the load and the whole stress-don't-stress vibe was doing their heads in (yes, I read too much in my job about young men's mental health).

I put pressure on my work-life as I made "being there" literally and figuratively my absolute priority, probably for me as much as them. For better or worse (probably worse) my personal parenting mantra has always been "I don't want to have regrets in my 50s".

But the good news for parents – including me, when my third eventually gets there – is what I have learned is this: the only things that really made a difference, in my experience, were checking in with, listening to, feeding and loving them.

All my driving was probably a cherry for them. The reading meant they could discuss books with someone who knew what they were talking about, but their excellent English teachers would have been just as good had I not been so obsessive (you will never get those late nights back).

The tutoring for one's maths and one's physics lowered anxiety around those subjects, though tutoring shouldn't be necessary if schools do what they claim they will (hold them to account!).

Probably what helped the most other than the constant supply of hearty food, and what I will do again, is helping get it through their heads that the mark on the paper, even if it is not what they want, will be nothing like the end of the world.

That number is, I can tell you from experience,  only the beginning.