Don’t mention the E-word (exam). Don’t mention the R- word (revision). Don’t ever, ever mention the J-word (job), the U-word (university) and definitely not the C-word (comparison with siblings or friends).

In fact, dear parents, it’s probably wise you stick simply to “What would you like for your tea today?” and “Can I get you more chocolate?” because just about everything else you say will be wrong. Irritating, critical, nosey, useless, patronising, stupid and WRONG.

Even if you acknowledge you haven’t necessarily said the right thing and you apologise, that’ll be wrong, too.

Oh, the early summer is such good fun in households with teenagers taking exams…

The supportive comments

“Just try your best, love, that’s all we ask.” Arggh! You may as well light the blue touch-paper and head to the neighbours’ house for cover. (“Of course I’ll do my best, what the hell else do you think I’m going to do after I’ve been stuck in a boring classroom for years on end? Anyway, don’t you have any faith at all in my abilities?”)

“It’s only a bit of paper so stop worrying. Whatever happens we’ll love and support you.” Nooooo! Don’t go there! It’s tantamount to telling them their years of studies and revision have been a complete waste of time and they needn’t have bothered. They’ll also feel doomed to a life of having to rely on parents’ help for evermore. Anyway, it’s far better you don’t plant the seed that staying with you is an option…

The pressure points

“The next few weeks are among the most important of your life, so it’s worth all the hard work now.”  (“You stupid parent, don’t you think I know this? Do you think I need the extra pressure right now?”)

“If you fail to prepare, you prepare to fail.” Oh no, not this old cliché. Avoid the so-called nuggets of wisdom as much as you can – they’ll only wish you’d choke on them.

The comparisons

“Now you wouldn’t want your brother to get the better of you, would you? Remember how well he did.” Sibling rivalry is explosive enough at the best of times, so don’t provoke a firework display.

The same goes for classmates. “Anna in your class is always studying and it reflects in her results. You might like to try taking some leaves out of her book.” (“If you think Anna’s so great why don’t we do a swap? You adopt her and let me go live with her far-more-reasonable parents.”)

The helpful suggestions

“Would you like me to test you?” All roads lead to hell on this one. Whatever you ask, it’ll be the wrong question and you won’t recognise the right answers anyway. You’ll call things by the wrong name or pronounce things incorrectly and, despite things having been much more strict and difficult in your day, you possibly won’t really ‘get it’ today.

“You need to understand that the people who say they’re not doing much revision are actually working like stink and that’s why they get the grades.” (“Oh yeah, then how come the class pin-ups Jack/Ryan/Alicia/Chloe do absolutely no work, have all the fun and yet get all A-grades?”)

The foodie faux-pas

Remember, teenagers aren’t generally concerned about sensible food, just food that will make them muscly (boys) or thin (girls).

“I’m going to make you a nice trio of fish the night before your exam because fish is really good brain food” really will not cut the mustard. It won’t even slice the cod liver oil.

Likewise, the morning of the exam: “I’ll give you porridge with organic bananas and three Brazil nuts for breakfast, full of slow-release carbs to see you through your horrible day” is likely to result in the front door being slammed behind them, leaving you all day fretting that you didn’t offer them toast and chocolate spread so at least they’d have had something

The technology jibes

“How can you do any work when you’ve got Facebook / Instagram / Snapchat / others running in the background? This is likely to set eyes rolling way back into their head and their face turning puce. (“Just because you’re too old and slow to multi-task don’t assume I am. Anyway, I’m merely swapping revision notes with my classmates.”)

“Shall I look after your mobile phone while you revise so you don’t get bothered by texts?” You may as well ask them if they’d like you to remove their right arm without anaesthetic, so don’t waste your breath.

The ‘It was worse for me’ comments

“Exams are so much easier than they were when I was studying.” Or, “We never had multi-choice questions: at least you’re likely to get 25% even if you just tick randomly.” Don’t even think about these. Just don’t. They’re likely to send the teenager into orbit faster than you can say ‘ignite’.

“We didn’t have the ease of the internet in my day, so I use to have to spend hours on end at the library, doing proper research.” (“Bully for you – and your predecessors chiselled on the walls of their caves.”)


So let’s face it, parents, you’ll be better off investing in a large roll of duct tape and placing an eight-inch piece across your mouth every time you’re tempted to say something. Don’t worry, after the exams you’ll have until mid-August to rekindle your relationships with your teenagers. Then all the angst starts again on the run-up to results…





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Laura is a Francophile with a passion for literature and linguistics. She also loves skiing, cooking and painting.