Receiving exam results is always a stressful time. It’s the culmination of countless hours of hard work and stress on top of navigating education throughout a pandemic. For many, it will be a time of joy and looking forward to the future. However, this won’t be the reality for some pupils around the UK as they receive results that aren’t what they hoped for.  

Dealing with disappointing exam results comes with a myriad of emotions and stressful scenarios for a young person. As well as dealing with the immediate issues, like telling friends and family their results, there are also possible long-term repercussions to consider, such as whether their future plans for higher education or a particular career are still viable.   

Alongside all these types of thoughts and issues, there’s another more modern pressure for young people to contend with: social media.

For those happy with their results, social media will be an obvious place to turn to express their happiness and share in celebrations or excitement about their future. This is, of course, a very normal thing to do in this age of social media and is not necessarily an action to be discouraged. But for those scrolling on social media who are disappointed with their results, it can be difficult for them to not compare their realities with those of their peers. 

Those feelings of disappointment, frustration, anxiety, and low self-esteem that come with disappointing or unexpected results can be difficult enough for a young person to manage. Watching friends and strangers alike having the opposite (and desired) experience may not only compound those existing feelings but can also bring out complex emotions such as isolation, jealousy, and bitterness.  

Studies show that many young people connect their online presence (such as the number of likes and friends total) with their self-image and perception of self. Additionally, academic achievement has also been linked to self-esteema sense of worth, and confidence. Add into the mix the FOMO (fear of missing out) factor of not participating in celebratory activities, and there’s a potential ‘triple whammy’ combination of things that can affect their self-esteem.  

Today’s Grades Aren’t Tomorrow’s End Results

For parents and carers of young people receiving their results, here’s some tips on how best to give support:

  • Remember, your words matter. At times like these, the reactions of a parent or carer can be a huge deal to a young person. Your words will carry a heavweight and the young person in your care may be dreading the thought of telling you their results 

  • Remind the young person in your care that, despite how it may seem to them when looking on social media, many people will have mixed emotions about their grades. They aren’t alone if they are feeling disappointed and disheartened with their results 

  • Encourage the young person to ‘take a break’ from checking their social media feeds and/or dwelling on their results
  • Even if the results weren’t what everyone was hoping for, consider planning an event or activity to acknowledge the hard work and effort put in across the school year. It could be something lowkey, like a family dinner. If the young person seems like they don’t want to talk about it or would prefer not to make a fuss, maybe a trip to the cinema, a walk around in nature or another activity they enjoy
  • Think about ‘next steps’. For example, if they need to repeat exams or an assessment, how would they go about that? Or is there an alternative university course they could enrol in? Trying to figure out what to do next could be overwhelming. When they are ready, spend time together and support them with researching the next steps
  • Emphasise that this is not the be-all-end-all for their future. Plenty of people go on to have successful careers without having academic success at school. Also, many people live happy lives without degrees or what is stereotypically thought of as a ‘successful career 

  • Support their mental wellbeing by listening to worries and stress. Remind them that what they have gone through in the past 18 months (a global pandemic, online education, and lockdowns) is no small stress and that you are proud of them for how they have coped
  • Ask open questions, like “How does this result make you feel?” This gives them the chance to air any problems, worries or stresses they have. It gives you a chance to reassure them and boost their self- esteem 

  • Openly talking about hopes and fears and acknowledging feelings of worry, failure, disappointment, and pressure is key in helping build resilience, reaffirming trust, and fostering confidence in their future 

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You should consider seeking support for children in your care if they display a number of the following signs:

  • Inability to sleep/eat/socialise.
  • Uncontrollable feelings of anxiety/anger/stress and worry.
  • Panic attacks, self-harm behaviours, and emotional outbursts.

Make sure they get enough exercise

  • Exercise has many benefits to our physical and mental health. Being outside in the fresh air will also boost energy levels and help young people’s ability to focus.
  • Exercise releases endorphins (happy chemicals), which decrease stress and improve sleep. Encouraging young people to take a short walk or cycle a bike can help them de-stress and recharge.

Signpost to mental health organisations

  • Inform the young person/people you support about organisations that can help, such as Childline – online or on the phone, 0800 1111.

  • If a young person has a support plan, you should encourage them to engage with it.

Further Resources

  • Teachers and safeguarding professionals with access to our Safer Schools App can complete our Free CPD Certified Mental Health Awareness Course.
  • Parents and Carers with access to our Safer Schools App can find further resources on supporting the children in their care in the Health and Wellbeing section of their App.
  • To learn more about Safer Schools, visit oursaferschools.co.uk.

Further Support

If you have immediate concerns about the safety of a child or young person you should contact the emergency services on 999.

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