Making it through Year 12 is a delicate balancing act for teenagers and their parents at a time when many more students are feeling the pressure of unrealistic expectations, according to well-known adolescent psychologist and author Michael Carr-Gregg.

He said the evidence was clear that students were feeling under more stress than they were 20 or even 10 years ago.

“When I first started, one in seven kids in schools had psychological problems — it’s now one in four, ” he said.

There had also been an increase in the number of teen suicides attributed to exam stress.

“Sadly, the research is pretty grim, ” he said. “We’ve got more evidence on the morbidity of it and that should be cause for concern.”

He said there was no doubt that many young people thought they were defined by their final score, and that was probably a very unhelpful way to look at it.

One of the themes of Dr Carr-Gregg’s updated book, Surviving Year 12, first published in 2004, is that Year 12 is like a game. Once students know how to play the game, their chances of getting what they want out of the year increase significantly.

The latest edition includes new research and a chapter on social networking, which was not such an issue eight years ago.

Dr Carr-Gregg said research showed that one of the most important stress relievers was a good night’s sleep.

“Unfortunately, even now, kids in Year 12 still see sleep as a kind of optional extra and it really isn’t, ” he said.

“Making sure you have the brain foods is number two. To the traditional eggs, yoghurt and fish oil, we can add now things like avocado and flax seeds.”

Dr Carr-Gregg said a recent study found that the students who scored top marks in their final exams had sworn off Facebook for a year. But giving up that constant contact was difficult for adolescents.

“At no other time in your life is the desire to be with your age mates so strong, ” he said.

“The reason why Facebook is so successful is because it’s the teenage zeitgeist. The spirit of the times is about being in touch.”

Studying smarter, instead of harder, was also important, as was learning how to manage time effectively.

He advises parents that they should become their child’s “cheer squad”, without appearing too over-anxious.

“Celebrate before the results come out so that you put the emphasis where it should be, which is on the completion of Year 12, not the result, ” he said.

Parents should make frequent trips to their child’s room with food and drink, but they should not hover over them.

“Be there in the background, but not as a helicopter parent, just be a supporter, ” he said. “And don’t nag.”

But parents also had to acknowledge that it was an important year and ease up on pressure in other areas.

“Any kid in Year 12, particularly in the last term, should really be exempt from any household chores, ” he said. “That’s why God gave us little brothers and sisters.

“You are just trying to convey, gently, that this is an important year, but it’s not the be-all and end-all. It’s a very delicate little dance.”


1. Guide, support and encourage your son or daughter — don’t nag.

2. Don’t tell them they will fail if they don’t work harder.

3. Provide healthy, nutritious meals each day.

4. Create an effective work space in the house if they can’t study in their room.

5. Encourage them to take study breaks when necessary.

6. Don’t overload them with domestic chores.

7. Encourage them to believe in themselves and be there when needed.

8. Give them positive feedback whenever possible.

9. Obtain extra academic support if necessary.

10. Encourage your son or daughter to keep up-to-date with their workload, seek help when they need it, get enough sleep and have realistic goals. Remember, the final year is about them, not you.


1. Keep a timetable.

2. Write a “to do” list every day.

3. Write your “to do” list into your timetable.

4. Ask yourself what things do not need to be done . . . then don’t do them.

5. Make the most of every spare moment.

6. Learn to say “no”.

7. When you are on the phone, keep your calls short.

8. Wean yourself off TV.

9. Balance your study time with rest and recreation.

10. Prioritise and set goals based on importance.



© The West Australian

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