GCSE results day: What not to say to a disappointed teen

22nd Aug 19 | Lifestyle

As hundreds of thousands of students discover their grades, these are the phrases to avoid if things don’t go to plan.

The more time you spend out of school, the easier it is to forget how long and gruelling the whole GCSE process really is.

An average of nine subjects, an exam season that seems to last forever, not to mention a new grading system – it’s almost unmatched in the educational calendar for sheer, brutish size.

We’d say it’s judgement day, but for the students, it must feel like the last of many.

So here are a few things not to say to your fraught, nerve-shredded teen if their results don’t quite pan out as they’d hoped…

‘You could have done better’

Results day is not the time for negativity, however negative the day’s results, and it’s essential not to project your own disappointment onto your child. “Even if you’re frustrated about your child’s results,” says MyTutor psychology consultant Dr Kate Jenkins, “at best this is just telling them what they already know.”

Mother and daughter arguing
(iStock/PA)

If you want a tearful shouting match, this will ensure you get one, but failure to offer proper support could also have longer term effects. “Belittling your child’s efforts like this can have a major impact at this formative stage in their development,” says Jenkins. “Ask them how they feel about their results and offer support and understanding, rather than compounding their feelings of stress and disappointment.”

And bear in mind that what you say is sometimes less important than how you say it.

‘Your brother/sister didn’t do that well either’

Rule for life – do not compare your children. For any reason. Ever. Kids with siblings are prone to comparison anyway, and at a time of vulnerability, even positive comments may leave them feeling judged. Try to focus instead on them – their grades, their future, their feelings.

‘There’s always resits’

“It’s often tempting to try and reassure people who are disappointed by offering productive solutions or next steps,” says Jenkins. “While it feels like you’re being practical and useful, saying something like this invalidates their hard work.”

Teenage boy receiving bad news
(iStock/PA)

This is a worthwhile reminder that your child might welcome a week down the line, but while results remain raw, you’d be well-served staying in the present. “Usually, your child will want to work through their emotions a bit before thinking about what’s next,” says Jenkins, “and you can help them do that by just listening.”

‘It could have gone worse’

Trying to put a positive spin on things may seem like a sure thing, but back-handed compliments can be worse than saying nothing. Poor results can be accompanied by ‘dichotomous thinking’ – black-and-white perfectionism that sees everything as failure or success – and handing down value judgements might not help their frame of mind.

Children respond to failure in different ways, so don’t be afraid to let them do the talking while you listen and reflect. It’s not your job to fix everything – it’s your job to support them, and help them work it out for themselves.

‘I failed a few exams, and I turned out alright’

Mother and son
(iStock/PA)

Again, this may sound like an appropriate, back-slapping gee-up, and there’s nothing wrong with injecting a bit of perspective when the moment feels right. But bringing yourself into the conversation like this can seem self-congratulatory, and risks trivialising a moment that might feel life-altering.

“The problem with this is that it isn’t an empathetic response to your child’s disappointment,” says Jenkins. “This is about them, not you. It’s healthy to acknowledge the importance that your child might attach to their results, but reassure them it’s not the only thing that determines their worth.”

‘I told you so’

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It doesn’t matter what you told them. In a low moment, do not say this.

© Press Association 2019

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