Results day: more uncertainty in an uncertain year

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13 Aug 2020
GCSE and A level results have been awarded this year without students putting pen to paper, meaning results day is very different. How can we help our teenagers navigate it well?

All their lives, our kids have known that one day they would be judged and their future decided by how they do in an exam. But now they have a piece of paper that tells them how they have done without them having felt any control over that at all.

This year's coronavirus pandemic meant public exams in the UK were cancelled, and this summer's all important exam results have been calculated using information from schools about individual students which has then been standardised by Ofqual. And in the middle of all this are the students, holding a piece of paper or opening an email, wondering if the grades they see actually say anything about themselves at all.

Results day is always huge, social media buzzing, newsfeeds full of statistics and stories of the teens who achieve incredible results. But this year, we'll also be reading about anger, regrets and confusion as students try to make sense of their grades and their future. 

While living with success and failure is part of growing up, for many this year's results will be particularly hard to deal with.

How can we help our kids if results day doesn’t turn out well? These are some ideas you might find helpful.

What might your child be feeling?

We all know the feeling of disappointment when an exam doesn't go the way we wanted it to. But this year, when young people weren't even able to sit the exams, many will also be feeling angry, cheated or full of regret. Your child may be feeling some or all of these:

  • Anger - at themselves for not working harder for their mocks or coursework, or anger at the way results were calculated.
  • Regret - that they didn't work harder during their course or for their mocks
  • Cheated - they didn't get a chance to show what they could do, or they feel they were affected by their school's postcode
  • Anxiety - about their future or about what to do next
  • Disappointment - that they didn't do better or that they've let people down
  • Insignificant - I'm just a statistic, I wasn't seen as a person in this system or because my friends did better than me
  • Failure - because I didn’t get the results I expected, or school anticipated, or what I need to go to college, I have failed

If a teen you loved has had disappointing news today, it can be hard to know how to help them. It can be devastating to see your hopes disappear, and while you may long to hug them tight until the pain goes away, that won’t be enough.  But there is a lot you can do.

Help them cope with their feelings

  • Chances are your teen will be feeling a real mix of emotions and may not be able to identify exactly what is going on. Rachel Turner, in her book ‘Parenting Children for a Life of Faith Omnibus’, suggests using ‘curious questions’ to help people understand their feelings. Asking questions like ‘Tell me more about how you are feeling’ or ‘What are you afraid might happen?’ may be helpful and will help you understand their point of view.
  • Try to respond with empathy rather than emotion – however disappointed or angry you are. Resist the temptation to rush in with solutions or rant about the unfairness of the system. Give them time, allow them to hide for a while if they want to, and make sure you focus on them rather than their results.
  • Remind them that you love them just because. No conditions. Great grades won’t make you love them any more, and failing exams won’t make you love them any less. Remind them that they have achieved a lot already, and you are proud of them.
  • Help them release their frustration well. Suggestions include taking time away from people for a while, screaming into a pillow, doing some exercise, journalling, talking to a trusted friend, ranting for a while, or simply having a good cry. There’s good advice here about coping with the disappointment.
  • If appropriate for your child, suggest that they connect with God and catch from him. If they are finding this difficult, you may want to help them do this using the prayer ministry model described in session 7 of the ‘Parenting for Faith’ course.
  • If you are worried about your child’s reaction to their results, there are helplines for parents such as the one offered by Young Minds that will be able to help.

Help them see they have a future

If your teen has been anticipating that they will be going to college or uni, discovering that their grades weren’t good enough will be shattering, and they may find it difficult to imagine their future. 

  • Remind them that whatever has happened today, it is a new beginning – something new will happen.  They can’t change what has happened but they can make good decisions about the future.

 ‘[Failure is] one moment in the midst of a whole story and what happens next is more important than the failure itself’

Rachel Turner, ‘Parenting Children for a Life of Faith’.

  • Your child will need to find out what their options are – retakes, applying for another university through clearing, opting for another sort of course, for example. Encourage them to talk to people who will have good advice such as their tutors at college. There is a lot of helpful information online: for example, advice on what to do if you are disappointed with your results here (for students in Northern Ireland, Wales and England) or here (for students in Scotland). The UK government has a summary of what to do here. UCAS have a comprehensive guide to clearing here.
  • It may be helpful to remind them that many, many very successful people didn’t do well in their exams - see this article, for example. Explore together stories of people in the Bible who had bumpy rides. Their apparent success or failures along the journey had nothing to do with God’s ability to use them powerfully. God promises to work all things together for good, and his great plans for your life cannot be stopped. 
  • Share stories of times in your life when your plans went awry: what happened? How did you feel? 

Help them see truth in the Bible  

Despite what we might hear from the world, God doesn’t value academic achievement!  When you look in the Bible to see what God wants to see in us, it is things like the fruit of the Spirit rather than intelligence or achievement, and the book of Proverbs is full of admiration for qualities such as diligence and hard work.  

Many Bible characters had moments of when everything went belly up, times when it seemed as if everything had gone wrong.  Wonder at what happened; how the characters felt; what they did; and how the story ended.  For example:

  • Peter regret at denying Jesus (John 18:1-27; 21)
  • David’s affair with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11-12)
  • Elijah's feelings of helplessness and hopelessness (1 Kings 19)
  • King Jehoshaphat's reaction when faced with invasion (2 Chronicles 20)
  • Jacob being cheated into marrying Leah (Genesis 29)

God does not expect us to be perfect.  There are many verses in the Bible that can comfort us when we feel that we have failed, and you may want to share some of these with your teen.  For example:

  • We don’t need to be perfect for God to use us – in fact, Paul describes us as ‘jars of clay’ holding God’s light (2 Corinthians 4:6-9)
  • God, who loves us dearly, has good plans for us, to give us hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11)
  • Paul advises that in order to put our hearts at peace, we should pray about everything (Philippians 4:6-7)
  • We are of such value to God that he even knows how many hairs are on our heads (Matthew 10:29-31)
  • God is our unshakeable refuge when we are in trouble (Psalm 18:2)
  • We will experience trouble – and when this happens, Jesus offers us peace (John 16:33)

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