MyTutor for Parents

6 top takeaways from, ‘How’s school?’– with Dr Louise Egan

When your teen isn’t feeling their best, it’s hard for them to focus on school work. How they feel about themselves can have a domino effect on their studies. Recently, we were lucky to be joined by child and adolescent Clinical Psychologist, Dr Louise Egan for a live Q&A. She shared her top advice on supporting teen mental health during exam season and at other stressful times. And if you missed it – not to worry. Here are 6 top takeaways from the night.

  1. Help them explore new ideas and experiences
  2. If your teen overworks, find out why
  3. If they avoid studying, show them you’re on their side
  4. If there’s a subject they hate- help them find the motivation
  5. If they’re stressed during exam season- remember the 3 Rs
  6. If they’re addicted to gaming or social media- entice them with healthier habits

1. Help them explore new ideas and experiences

If your teen’s having rows with the family, getting body piercings, and spending lots of time with their friends– don’t panic. These changes might feel like a whiplash. But before rushing to think something’s gone wrong when they’ve dyed their hair blue, know that changes like this are totally normal in teens. They are psychologically growing in independence, exploring themselves and other people in their world. As Dr Egan puts it, ‘Their self-consciousness is going through the roof, especially about their abilities and their appearance. Teens want to be acceptable to their mates.’ 

While you can’t stop them from wanting to try “risk-taking behaviours”, Dr Egan reassures us that their teen’s flexible brain comes with opportunities. As a parent, you can take advantage of their appetite for new experiences by guiding them to creative and mind-opening activities. Try inspiring their imagination by talking to them about what’s going on in the world and watch mind-opening documentaries and talks online together. Do what you can to encourage their curiosity at this stage. 

illustration-mother-and-son

2. If your teen overworks, find out why

While some teens are spending all their time on TikTok, others are overworking. Parents in the MyTutor community asked how they can help their children relax and find a balance between study and down-time. Before finding a solution, Dr Egan suggests that first it’s useful to dig into why a teen is working themselves so hard. Do they think they’re not good enough? Are they worried about what you think?” To get to the root of the problem, try asking your child what they believe about themselves. 

She suggests parents should find ways of spending regular time with their teen. It might be easier said than done, but this positive time together means you can nurture and feed their self-esteem. Praise their efforts, and help them when they’re being hard on themselves. Dr Egan encourages parents to ‘Have your teen in the driving seat.’ There’s no quick fix, but with lots of conversations and encouragement over time, you can help your teen work out a more balanced relationship with their studies – and themselves.

3. If they avoid studying – show them you’re on their side

What about the opposite– teens who avoid schoolwork like the plague? Here, Dr Egan recommends being more of a guide and mentor, rather than trying to control. ‘When we stamp down rules, they’ll dig their heels in,’ she says. So how do you help your teen without nagging them? 

Dr Egan encourages parents to engage with their children. The first step is finding out what’s really behind the behaviour.  ‘Ask for their opinion, and again– ask what they need from you. Try to be playful– bring humour where possible to take intensity out of a disagreement to lighten the mood.’ When your teen knows you’re definitely on their side, they’re more likely to open up about what’s bothering them – about their learning, their social life, whatever the source of their worry is.

4. If there’s a subject they hate – help them find motivation

Maybe your teen hates Maths. It doesn’t interest them at all. But they still need that pass in Maths to get into college. So what can you do to motivate them?

Always try to understand why your teen has these negative feelings. Are low grades in the subject affecting their self-esteem? Have they got any learning gaps left over from lockdown? Maybe they’re too embarrassed to ask for help in class. If they’ve got gaps in their learning, you can reach out to their teacher, or a school homework club–or a tutor for support. It could be that once your teen fills in those gaps, they feel more confident and less put off by the subject. They might even learn to *love* Maths. There can be huge turnarounds when they gain confidence in their abilities.

Dr Egan also recommends helping your child excel in areas where they do feel strong and capable. Maybe they’re great at football, or they’re really good at looking after the family pet. The positive feedback in those areas where they’re strong helps buffer places where they’re struggling. 

mother-and-son-doing-yoga

5.  If they’re stressed during exam season– remember the 3 Rs

If your teen is feeling overwhelmed or panicked, Dr Egan highly recommends the 3Rs technique: regular, relate and reason. You start by regulating, which just means finding ways to help soothe your teen when they’re in a panic. It might be that they need a bit of reassurance or mindful meditation to settle. Some teens relax when they listen to their favourite music, or light candles or wear their favourite hoodies and comfy socks. It’s different for everyone, and what works for you or a sibling might not for them.

Once they’re regulated, find ways to ‘relate’ to your teen. Have regular catch-ups together in a place that feels comfortable and easy, like in the car or at a cafe. Saying to them, ‘We’re in this together,’ shows your teen you’re on their side, which  makes them more likely to open up and share with you what’s getting to them. 

Once they’re feeling more balanced, you can support them as they ‘reason’, reflect and learn. ‘You can look at slow and steady ways to help them revise,’ Dr Egan says. You can start with working on a revision timetable together. Guide them in breaking up their work into smaller, more manageable chunks. Encourage your teen when they cross tasks off from their revision plan. That way, you can help them learn how to manage their studies in the long term, so they can avoid getting overwhelmed again.

6. If they’re addicted to gaming or social media – entice them with healthier habits

Lots of parents at the webinar wanted to know how to draw their teens away from social media and gaming. A lot of games and social media platforms are designed to be addictive, and as these parents told us, they can stop teens from socialising, spending time with their family and studying. While there’s no easy fix, Dr Egan suggested a few different things that might help:

  1. Entice them with other activities. Having friends come around after school, an after-school lesson in an activity or subject they enjoy scheduled in can work to excite them just enough to get them absorbed in something else.  
  2. Design a routine with them. Rather than banning their gaming or – dare we say – taking their phone off them – helping them put together a weekly routine that includes it. So as well as socialising, studying, being helpful at home – can help them enjoy a more balanced life.
  3. Talk about how you manage your screen time. Teens aren’t the only ones who struggle to look away from their screens sometimes. If you talk about how you also find it hard, and how you balance your time, you can help them see how to make time for other activities too. 
  4. Encourage their passions (even if it’s gaming). A half term course in coding or game design could be just the thing to get them excited, and put them on an exciting career path. Having chats about how they can use their skills and passions to build a future they love can be just the thing to motivate them to study. 

Thank you Dr Egan for all this advice! If you’d like to hear everything she had to share with our community, watch the full webinar recording. If you’re still looking for advice on teen mental health and school, you can watch her full webinar ‘How’s school?’, here.

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