Just as momentum and routine surfaced for Year 12 students, welcome Covid-19 and life interrupted like never before - educationally, economically, and socially - and suddenly finding themselves having to keep the study pace up via remote learning, a whole new world. Added to this, clouds of uncertainty around ATAR and university entry, indefinite lockdown, job losses and business downturns have contributed to home becoming a pot of pressure for many.
Down, drained, depleted, and feel like throwing in the towel - that’s how many Year 12 students feel right now.
It's fatiguing sitting and staring at the same screen on the same desk from 8.00am till 3.00pm every day, especially if you are not used to it, let alone having to continue the pace into the evening with further study to stay on track.
It’s demotivating when there is no guarantee that ATAR will be calculated fairly.
It’s distressing when parents are constantly arguing or crying over financial pressure and uncertainty, or the internet keeps dropping you out of your virtual class and you can’t go to the local library.
It’s emotionally draining when you're reminded of the reality that you can’t have a laugh with friends in the playground to ease the pressures of classes, assessments and exams and physically interact with people going through the same thing…...or be part of senior leadership roles, school productions, sporting events, university open days. Oh and let’s not forget 18th birthday parties, getting Ps and driving friends around, part time work to save money, and possibly the all important school formal and proudly walking on stage at your graduation ceremony.
Feeling robbed of motivating milestones, amid ATAR anxiety, disruption and lockdown, it’s a tough pill to swallow for the Class of 2020.
So if you are a parent or an educator, what can you do to help your child regain the motivation to power through their final months of school life, finish strong and create a hopeful future?
Here are 3 suggested focus areas to support your child to reignite the fire, rewire for resilience and refocus for success.
1. Step into their Shoes
“Resilience is the speed and strength in responding to adversity.”
(Adam Grant - Psychologist and Co-author of ‘Option B’)
Echoing Grant’s words, resilience is not given at birth, but gained through adverse and painful experiences. Whether it’s losing a loved one, family issues, financial woes or Covid-19, there are three stages to dealing with adversity, with a person’s ability to effectively recover, regain purpose and build resilience determined by their ability to successfully transition through each stage.
Stage 1: The Initial Hit
The first stage is THE INITIAL HIT, filled with shock and overwhelm and predominant thoughts of “I can’t believe it”, “Why me? Why us?. Fear on steroids leading to panic and hysteria, summed up the initial stages of Covid-19 in March 2020, with schools and students left in limbo, before the onset of a complete lockdown in April - a major shock to the system that students were navigating through.
Stage 2: Feeling It
“You don’t drown by falling in the water. You drown by staying there”
(Edwin Louis Cole)
The second stage involves coming to terms with the new reality and FEELING IT - the pain of massive disruption, lost learning, uncertainty, remote learning, and missing out on the memories, excitement and rewards associated with the final year of school. Being uncharted waters, it is the most difficult period, with predominant thoughts of “What’s the point?”, “It’s all up in the air”, “Is it really worth it?, “I have no motivation anymore”. For some, Stage 2 becomes a prolonged home, gripped by the victim mindset while others transition to the third stage.
Stage 3: Rising Above It
“Acceptance of what happened is the first step to overcoming the consequences of any misfortune”
The third stage involves getting back up and RISING ABOVE IT, taking personal responsibility. Here, a person acknowledges what’s happened, comes to terms with the new reality and accepts it’s out of their control. They redirect energy and focus on the things they can control, inspiring tenacity, optimism, and empowerment.
Which stage is your child at?
“Listen with ears of tolerance. See through eyes of compassion. Speak with the language of love”
To find out, open non confrontational dialogue. It provides them with a safe outlet to let things out, which in many cases, are thoughts that are causing them grief. Seek first to listen and understand, rather than to give advice. Make them feel heard and supported.
Stepping into their shoes is the key. We’ve all been hit on the blindside, but it’s an extra bitter pill to swallow for final year students where their entire schooling journey has been working up to this year - academically and socially, and the opportunity to exercise their independence at the turn to 18.
Avoid brushing off their concerns. Their final school year is a big deal, because what they are going through is a once in a lifetime event on all fronts. Oblivion and denial do not inspire personal responsibility and only increase bitterness and blame.
2. Shift Focus
“Where focus goes, energy flows”
Words are powerful. While acknowledging their struggles is important, it’s even more important to steer away from using language that has a negative and pessimistic connotation, amplifies fear and overwhelm, dwells on the problem and tolerates a victim mindset.
This only fosters a sense of powerlessness.
Instead, promote a champion’s mindset - encouraging them to be solution focussed and to turn their pain into gain - in strength, appreciation, perspective and resilience.
“Positive and negative emotions cannot occupy the mind at the same time”
Acknowledge Covid-19 as a present day challenge with a harsh reality attached to it that we’ve never experienced, but always have that transition in your response phrase that instills tenacity, optimism and calls for positive action, embedding words of affirmation and encouragement to show that you believe in them.
In the following examples, the transition from the ‘what is’ to ‘what can be done’ is through the word BUT, cultivating creativity and sparking solutions:
“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.”
Encourage them to google the good rather than be battered by what appears to be bad, to focus on bettering and not bittering themselves, and to be creative, adaptable and resourceful - important life skills and all of which promote a growth mindset that will serve them in many years to come. This will restore calm and clarity, shift perspective, and reignite energy, drive and purpose.
A practical exercise to encourage students to do is to write down a list of all the things they cannot control, such as the determination of ATAR, university entry criteria, lockdown rules, the end to remote learning, right through to the things they can control, such as their thoughts, attitude, work ethic, and the meaning they give the pandemic. By getting out of the mind and seeing this in front of them will remind them of the power they have. It allows them to regain control, to continue and finish their final year strong.
If you find your child apathetic or highly anxious, set a few minutes aside every day with them for deep breathing and visualisation to restore calm, alleviate overwhelm, and inspire excitement, hope and confidence rather than opting for apathy and indefinitely residing on the couch, missing out on the gift of struggle and opportunity to grow muscles for life.
3. Redefine Reward
Life is about so much more than what happens to us, but rather, how we respond, and the meaning we give events.
With so much student attention focussed on what they are missing out as a result of Covid-19 - understandably - it’s no wonder why they feel down, drained and depleted, and feel like giving up. The rewards that initially motivated them, as outlined earlier, seem to be almost wiped out. “So what’s the point of trying?”, as many students would ponder.
Sure - one could treat this as the end of the journey, and what a sad story that would be. But that’s not tapping into the incredible fighting spirit that human beings have to rise up in times of darkness, even when there may not seem to be light at the end of the tunnel.
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
In A Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankel shared his experiences as a prisoner in Nazi concentration camps during World War II, revealing that it is through a search for meaning and purpose in life that individuals can endure hardship and suffering and rise above a fate that cannot be changed.
Redefining the reward is necessary for students to rediscover meaning and purpose for the final school year journey, which in turn, will reignite motivation.
Instead of dwelling on what’s being missed out on and on a fate that cannot be changed, encourage students to consider the following in their search for a new meaning and purpose to their final year:
Here are 3 compelling reasons to impart upon your child that can help them redefine the reward, reignite their drive and reinforce the power of perseverance:
Reason # 1 - Muscles For Life
“Success is not a destination that you will ever reach. Success is the quality of your journey.”
While the ATAR might be an entry point to university, no ATAR will ever be as valuable as the growth gained from students learning how to dance in the current storm and develop skills and lessons that will last a lifetime.
It’s not about the result. The fruit is in the pursuit, and the person they become in striving for success, regardless of the result. It’s about maintaining personal integrity to finish what was started and sign off with personal pride.
As a parent, to focus on the fruits and alleviate any fears of failure that your child might have, close the expectation gap by mutually agreeing on what’s realistic and achievable. Throw out the ‘ATAR’ expectation and replace it with the ‘personal best’ expectation. Provide perspective by reinforcing the fact that ATAR is not the be-all and end-all and there are pathways galore post-Year 12. Regardless, ensure they know that you will be proud of them for taking personal responsibility and becoming the leader of their life
Reason # 2 - Enhanced Future
A big student concern is how ATAR will be calculated, and if fairly, given the broad spectrum of schools navigating through remote learning, and some being disadvantaged. Also a concern is how universities will admit students, and how they will account for the disruption of Covid-19. This is outside your child’s control.
The good news is some universities such as Macquarie University, and the Australian National University have increased early entry offers, meaning that subject to eligibility (which includes Year 11 results), students can receive admission into university before completing their final exams. This will alleviate some anxiety around ATAR, and provide relief. That being said, students should be encouraged to continue to set and strive towards academic goals, even if they receive an early offer.
"The only important skill that will be important in the 21st century is the skill of learning new skills. Everything else will become obsolete over time"
Whether a student is getting an ATAR or not, educational institutions and employers will be looking at more than just academic results when it comes to choosing candidates, but in saying so, the mere fact that a student successfully completed their final year (regardless of ATAR) speaks volume. It shows commitment and character, which is what future employers are seeking.
Amid the current climate, many people have lost their jobs and unemployment is on the rise, meaning that once this pandemic is over, many highly skilled people will be looking to return to employment. This presents a new type of competition for the next generation entering the workforce for the first time, where they would be competing for low skilled positions alongside thousands of more experienced and higher-skilled workers.
If your child is not looking to study university, it’s important to discuss other options with them such as TAFE to upskill themselves and increase their future career prospects.
For any of the above scenarios, I would encourage you to sit down with your child, have the conversation, and offer to work through a dream building and goal setting exercise with them. This will create clarity, and reignite drive, whilst at the same time, your child will feel supported with the pathway they choose to pursue, and not be debilitated by fear of failure or parental disapproval. For dream building and goal setting templates, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I’d be happy to share.
Reason # 3 - Making History
While they may be missing out on traditions, they are making history at their school, in their community and globally.
Encourage them to see it as a BIG deal, because it is. How many people would have a chance to share with family and friends in the future that they survived and thrived in a global pandemic during their final school year?
In an interview with American star Hailee Seinfield, she shares how she missed out on experiencing Prom and homecoming events, but the lost experience was made up for in other ways, notably, her career opportunities.
Whilst most final year students are not living the Hailee Seinfied celebrity life, there will certainly be experiences that they will have that would replace the bitter taste of missing out on tradition with the beauty of rarity. Remind them that all their peers are in the same boat, and this is the opportunity to draw closer together and make the best of it with what they have, and celebrate like never before.
“Every adversity, every failure, every heartache, carries with it the seed of an equal or greater benefit”
Apathy and creativity cannot coexist. While in lockdown, encourage students to get virtually creative like this group of students from Livingston High in the US, creating virtual prom. It’s these weird, unprecedented yet special moments they choose to create in unique times which they'll never ever forget, creating special bonds that last a lifetime, and that is worth keeping the eye on the prize for.
“Challenges are what make life interesting and overcoming them is what makes life meaningful.”
(Joshua J Marine)
I’ll conclude with this inspiring video “How the class of 2020 is persevering while missing out on graduation milestones”
The all-important final exams are not at the end of the schooling year. The real tests are right now being thrown by life. This year is the opportunity for the Class of 2020 to enter the hall of fame and be remembered as the greatest school cohort of all time, and starts by deciding to become the leader of their life.
A special message to thank all educators that have gone above and beyond to support students through Covid-19.
YOU ARE THE REAL HEROES.
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Daniel Merza is a student wellbeing specialist, award-winning international speaker, and author.