How to talk to your teen about revision

Your teen walks downstairs from their room and you ask, “How's the revision going?”.

60 seconds later, they’re so wound up that they’ve turned around and stormed straight back to their room. The house is shuddering with the vibration of slammed doors and shouted retorts (both yours and theirs).

Does that sound familiar?

So many of the parents that we work with have feelings of intense shame because they think they're the only parents in the world who can't have a calm and productive conversation about revision.

The truth is, some variation of this scenario is happening all across the country in the homes of parents and students going through the GCSE and A-Level years.  

In this article I'm going to share three key tips so that you can have better conversations with your teen about revision.

How to talk to your teen about revision

1) Set expectations collaboratively

One of the big reasons that families have communication break downs over revision and homework is because parents and teens have different narratives going on in their heads about how things should be done and how much work needs to be done.

While mum might be thinking, “They haven't started revision yet and I can't believe they've left it so late. They're bound to be behind everyone else and what does this mean for their GCSE results, the rest of their education and their future? If they're not revising now they're definitely going to end up poor and it will be all my fault.”

This might not be the exact narrative that's going on in your head, but for many of the parents I work with there's definitely a narrative that's underpinned by both fear and anxiety about the future.

On the other hand, many teens will be thinking something along the lines of:

“Yes! I don't have any homework due in tomorrow. I can get on the Xbox as soon as I get in and have a great evening. My mocks aren't for a month so there's no urgency about anything.”

To be honest, if their mocks aren't for a month they might not even be thinking about them, let alone consciously putting the revision off for another day.

When agendas clash

So, you can see that when mum comes home from work, finds her teen gaming and just about manages to curb the hysteria she's feeling to ask how their revision is going that the conversation isn't necessarily going to go well. Both parties in the conversation are coming at the issue from very different perspectives.

How do you move to a more productive place?

When your teen is in a calm, relaxed and happy mood and they seem to be open to talking to you it's the perfect time to raise the topic of how they work towards their mocks or final exams.

First, it's a good idea to get an idea of what is going on in their heads about things like how much work is required over what period of time. This will show you what you're working with.

Once this is clear to you, you can begin to talk about what that looks like in practice.

Many of the members of The Extraordinaries Club find the advice that I give really helpful in mediating these conversations. For example, they can look at the advice in the Manage Your Time module about how much time should be spent on out of school study per week at both GCSE and A-Level and how to plan this time. It's much harder for teens to get angry with you if the advice about how much to do and what that looks like in practice is coming from a neutral source.

The objective of this conversation is to come up with a plan which you both agree on that says:

  • How much study they're going to do each week
  • When this study is going to happen
  • How you, as a parent, can check in on them without being an annoying nag!

2) Ask how they're feeling, not how they're doing

There's a very simple tweak you can make to how you ask your child about their revision.

Most parents will ask:

“How's the revision going?”

Or, something to that effect.

The trouble with this question is that it implies to your teen that what you really care about is their revision and, ultimately, what marks they're getting.

Instead, you can ask the question:

“How are you feeling about your revision today?”

Most humans behave from an emotional place most of the time. Teenagers and children do this even more so because they haven't developed or mastered the logical part of their brain to the same extent as adults.

Your teenager will definitely have feelings about their revision.

They may not be feelings you want to hear about, you may just want to hear that all their revision is going just fine so that you can leave them to get on with it and relax after a demanding day at work.

But, if your teenager feels comfortable sharing with you that they're bored by their revision, they feel overwhelmed by how much there is to do or they don't understand a topic and are feeling very inadequate which is impacting their ability to get on with their revision, you're going to have a much more productive conversation about it.

When you listen to your teenager's feelings you become their ally. When you ignore their feelings you become their enemy.

When you listen to your teenagers feelings you become their ally. When you ignore their feelings you become their enemy. Click To Tweet

For example, if you know your teenager has had a blow to their confidence because they don't understand a topic and they think everyone else in their class has got it you can help them by looking for resources on the internet that explain it in a way they can understand. This is much more productive than effectively shaming them because they haven't done any revision.

3) Praise effort, not results

In the same way that asking how their revision is going rather than how they're feeling about revision communicates to your teen that you care more about their academic output than their wellbeing, praising results rather than the right kind of effort says the same thing. It can also have the unwanted impact of developing a fixed mindset in your child.

So, if your child is finding a topic difficult you could praise the fact that they asked for help.

If your child has done well in a test, tell them that you're proud of them for making some flashcards and revising from them frequently as you know this is what lead to their good result.

If your child has trouble concentrating, praise them for setting a timer for twenty minutes and focusing for that length of time.

As we talk about in The Extraordinaries Club all the time, it's the right behaviours that generate the results in the same way that going for three runs a week can turn you from a couch potato into a runner. Your role as a parent is to sympathetically encourage the behaviours that will lead to your child reaching their full academic potential.

Over to you

I've shared three key tips with you in this article to help you have better conversations with your teen about revision. They are:

  1. Set expectations collaboratively
  2. Ask how they're feeling, not how they're doing
  3. Praise effort, not results

Now, it's time for you to go away and put these tips into practice. And, if you feel you need any help with any of this you're welcome to join The Extraordinaries Club. There are ten study skills modules which teach your child how to organise and approach their studies so that they can succeed and each module has special videos just for parents that offer advice on how to support your child to implement the things suggested. We also have parents only and students only coaching calls where you can come for empathetic advice to help your family succeed in the exam years with a lot less stress.

Click here to find out more about The Extraordinaries Club.

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