In this week’s column I would like to talk about exam results, writes NSPCC campaigns manager Helen Westerman.
At first glance perhaps not a topic you would naturally associate with online safety. But for so many of our children and young people their online world is no different to the real world and exam results stress can often be exacerbated online, particularly by the social media posts children may see from their peers.
In 2018-19 Childline delivered 1,414 counselling sessions to children and young people worried about their exam results, up by 51 per cent since 2014-15. At the Leeds Childline base, which takes online contacts from children across the UK, volunteers counselled dozens of children in August last year about this very emotive issue, with children worried about achieving their required grades. Young people told counsellors they were disappointed with themselves; worried their grades might affect their university place or concerned about telling their parents.
One boy who contacted Childline said: “I’m feeling really depressed and stressed out at the moment. I’m worried about getting my A-level results. I don’t think I will get the marks I need to get into my chosen university, and there’s loads of pressure on me from my teachers to do well. I don’t have anyone to talk to about it because I don’t want to let anyone down.”
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Social media and the internet can be a wonderful resource when studying but for some, exam result posts on social media only add to the pressure and anxiety of waiting for those seemingly all-important grades. It is important to discuss with your children the realities of social media and that people often post only the very best of their lives online. It is so important that they have the confidence to share how they are feeling and discuss their options with a friend, trusted adult or Childline if they feel too overwhelmed in speaking to you.
As one girl told Childline: “I am so worried about my exam results that I feel sick. I studied all day and overnight for them. If I don’t get all As I’ll feel like I’ve let everyone down and my parents will be disappointed. I want to make them proud.”
As parents, all we can do is be supportive and encourage a child to take their time to think about what they’d like to do next. There’s no need to rush into a decision straight away and one practical tip I can offer is to help them think about their choices by writing down a list of pros and cons about each of their options. Childline founder Dame Esther Rantzen, when asked about the pressure of exam results, said: “There will be plenty of opportunities for them to go on and do very well in their lives. We all have different strengths and qualities and exams are only a small part of what makes you who you are.”
You can find more information at www.net-aware.org.uk or call the O2 NSPCC Online Safety advice line for free on 0808 800 5002.