How to manage your parents’ ATAR anxiety

Parents taking their empathy a little too far? Here’s how to (nicely) tell them to ease up.

Parents looking at teen ATAR anxiety
Dr Selina Samuels Chief Learning Officer BA(Hons), LLB, PhD, MEd Friday, 7 June 2019

Any sane person would be forgiven for thinking that your parents are sitting the HSC, not you.

Not only are they given to use “we” in the weirdest ways (“We’re really trying to do better in Maths” and “We’re hoping to get into Law”), they’re always going on about how stressed they are.

But, sadly, it’s not their HSC or their ATAR and the only way to get the results “we” want is for them to put pressure on you.

You may wonder what happened to intrinsic motivation and doing the best you can for your own sense of achievement. But you’ve got to have a little bit of compassion for your parents. Apart from the fact that they love you and want the best for you, they have a well-justified fear that if you don’t get a good ATAR and consequently a well-paying job, you’ll never ever leave home.

It doesn’t help that every time they barge into your room to see if you’re studying for “us”, you’re on your phone or spending a precious five minutes on Instagram. They never seem to come in when you’re writing an essay or doing past Maths papers, and they don’t accept that you really are spending most of your time being productive.

So how can you change things to ensure you all make it safely to the end of the year?

Try a different approach

While your initial temptation will be to push your parents away in order to maintain some degree of privacy, a better approach is complete transparency. Make sure they hear all there is to know about the course you want to get into at uni or TAFE or the skills you’ll need for the career you’re hoping to pursue. Encourage them to come to events at school when the ATAR calculations are explained or to talk to your teachers. While that may mean that they have a lot of extra ammunition to put pressure on you, it also means that they know what you’re dealing with.

You want them to be your partners, not your enemies because basically, you’re dealing with enough this year. If you’re feeling anxious, tell them. Don’t put on a show for their benefit. In the face of your anxiety, they’ll probably switch into “solutions” mode, which makes them feel like they’re helping you and in turn minimise their anxiety.

Understanding why they’re so not chill

Your parents’ ATAR anxiety may stem from their regret that they didn’t work harder at school and follow a different career path. While it seems unfair to have to carry the ambitions of another person as well as your own, it would be a shame if you couldn’t benefit from someone else’s mistakes. Maybe they were never afforded the opportunities that you have. Again, it feels like pressure, but there’s grace in accepting some responsibility for the welfare and advancement of your family.

So, rather than push them away and tell them to get their own life, hold them close. Let them make you a cup of tea while you’re studying. Teaching someone else is a great way to consolidate what you’re learning, so sit them down and explain things to them. If they believe themselves to be an expert in a subject but they keep wanting you to read material which bears no relationship to the syllabus, at least thank them for introducing you to different approaches.

A bit of perspective

The important thing is that you don’t let their anxiety push you into doing something foolish or dramatic. And if it really starts to get too much for you, it might be worth confiding in a family member or friend who can have a word with them. Perhaps even one of your teachers can help here. They may be able to help you talk to your parents, or at least reiterate the importance of maintaining some balance in your life.

And remember, your final years at school seem overwhelming when you’re in them, but then they’re over. So fast. You get on with your life. It’s often said that, after the day on which you receive your ATAR, no-one ever asks you again what you got. Your parents will move on to many other anxieties, foremost among them the question of whether you’re ever going to move out of home.

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