It’s that time of year when exam results come out and a really important time for us to make space to listen to young people. Teenagers all around us are excited, sad, angry and filled with joy. The extremes of emotions fill our homes, our social media feeds and the media channels.
My youngest son is awaiting his A-level results, so I’m with you on the emotional roller-coaster too. We’ve already been on a huge wave with the exams themselves and now await what my son is desribing as a defining moment in his life. The grades they will be given will define the opportunities available to them for their next steps in life. Whether we agree with the exam systems and entry systems to higher education, apprenticeships and the work place, these grades are what our young people are waiting for. They know that with the grades come the open or closed doors.
We need to give them space to listen
It’s so easy to jump in, try and soothe and smooth things over in these up and down of raw emotions that are flowing around us. As parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends and supporters it’s often hard to be on the side lines and watch as young people discover new depths of emotion. Yet it’s not for us to jump in is it? As hard as it is to stand with our young people, it’s not our life to live.
We may think we’re wiser from our experience, or age, or from the challenges we’ve faced in our lives. But our experience and the world we grew up in is very different from that of the next generation. We may not have been given as many choices as are available these days, but is that such a bad thing?
Just like us, young people have the innate ability to choose what’s right for them. But they need to have the space to listen, think, feel and observe. They need our support to research opportunities, availability and suitability for them. They need our support and love to be themselves and not be defined by the grades on a piece of paper. Each one of them is so much more than a few letters and numbers.
Results days, especially A-level results, that cornerstone of huge change for families as young people leave home to live in communities of young people to explore the world in new says, often feels frantic to me. I remember my own results day. It wasn’t as frantic as it felt two years ago for my eldest son. But why are we rushing? Surely our children will end up in the right place for them. I truly believe that there are so many opportunities that each of us has available that as long as we keep moving, the right paths open up. As long as we continue to have the space to listen to ourselves.
In my house today, my son has looked at other options available to him if he doesn’t get the results and the university place he wants. He’s done this by himself, taking responsibility for his options. He wants to go to university, despite after at least two exams he said, “well I didn’t want to go to univesity anyway”! He’s excited to explore new ideas, be responsible for living his own life, and develop his passions for sport which he’s discovered again over the summer. He wants the whole package of opportunity to develop himself through a new experience of living away in a university environment. Not everyone wants this. And it’s not right for everyone either.
Our children need to be given the opportunity to explore what’s right for them. Our world is changing and that’s the one thing we can be certain of in life – change. There’s different routes to achieve the same goals, pathways that suit each of us differently. There’s job opportunities that are coming to life all the time that, speaking for myself, seem wild and wonderful all at the same time. Things that allow our young people to use and develop their unique gifts, skills and talents in ways that we’ve never thought of or heard of. Just because we don’t know about something doesn’t make it wrong or bad. We simply need to give our young people the confidence to explore the world in their way. A way that often feels weird to us as it’s unfamiliar.
Create space to listen with love
However we prepare our young people for the next phase of their lives, with or without the grades they wanted or expected, I encourage you to simply listen to them. Listen to what they’re saying and listen to their body language. They may be upset or exstatic. Love them. They may not want to talk about things. Allow them space. They may want to shout and scream. Respect them for expressing how they feel.
The best thing we can do is listen with love and allow them space to listen to themselves. The media, colleges, universities, employers may all be shouting to rush, but why? As my youngest said, “we spent hours on our personal statements. We’ve spent years on learning. Yet if react and go through clearing it seems to be get in quick so we don’t “miss out” ” He’s so wise! Their personal statement is still who they are. In my son’s case, he’s got a year more experience and knowledge about himself and the world from when he wrote his, and has been surprised at the courses that would be available to him if he doesn’t quite get the grades he needs for his first choice. He’s happier now he knows he can still explore and do what he wants to do for the next 3 years. He’s given himself space and time to explore options.
With anything in life, it’s not our place to judge others. This group of young people have experienced hardship and disconnection these past two years. It’s been difficult for them to explore their passions as many doors were physically closed to them. It’s taken time for them to find their feet and experience learning and see opportunities for themselves in this weird world of ours. They’ve all done brilliantly to be themselves and get through this last phase they’ve been through. All we need to do now is love them for who they are with all their tears of sadness and joy; all their laughter and loss. We may feel sorry that they haven’t had opportunities like we had, but they’ve had different ones.
The generation that are receiving grades for exams this year have such a different view on the world and what they want to contribute to it we need to encourage them in all their differences. They see opportunities where we often see barriers. They see old tech where we’re still learning something new! When we simply listen to them and their hopes and dreams for the future we see love. Their love for themselves, the world and all the beauty in it. We don’t need to do anything for them. They’ve got all the answers they need. We simply need to love them. Listen to them and encourage them to listen to themselves.
I hope the young people you know will have the space to listen to themselves in the hustle and bustle that is results day. It’s an important day for many, but we can choose how to be. Creating space to listen to our young people is crucial to them accepting who they are in all their brilliance. The media may already be judging the results, and our young people, but all they need is our love and support to be themselves.
Give them space. Love them. Create space to listen to young people and support them to be themselves in the very best way for them. If you’ve got concerns about young people in your life, I recommend getting support from Young Minds.
If you’d like more help in finding ways to make it easy to listen, get in touch, and register for regular easy listening tips: