At the beginning of your son’s matric year, it is worthwhile to take stock of your own parenting, and how this impacts your child’s ongoing development. How are you feeling about your son’s matric exams? What are your own personal and family circumstances which will impact your child this year? How ready is your son to take charge of his own learning, and how much support does he still require from you and his teachers?

“It is very likely that these exams cause you stress,” says Cape Town clinical psychologist Henk Eichhorn, “and you could let it spill over and add to your matric’s stress and pressure without you being aware of doing so.”

One of the best things that you can do this year is to let your sons take charge of their own learning, says Eichhorn. “They’ve been doing this for years, and probably have a sense of what works for them. This is tough for a stressed parent to do.” Eichhorn advises parents to let their matric set up their own work programme with realistic time periods for studying with breaks in-between. Breaks are important, as is regular exercise. Enough sleep is essential (and necessary for consolidating learning). Also important is a time to switch off at the end of the day before bed.

Harold Koplewicz, psychiatrist and founder of The Child Mind Institute, and the author of “The Scaffold Effect” provides some advice for parents about how to avoid nagging adolescents about homework:

Kids are highly motivated not to fight with you, especially about homework. To shift away from nagging (again), which messages a lack of confidence in your child’s work ethic and abilities, focus on trust and respect. Start by asking him to list his assignments for the night and then say, “I’m sure you have a plan for getting it all done. If you don’t think so, I can help you organise.” If he says he can do it on his own, you can poke your head in now and then to ask if he would like something to drink, but otherwise, back off.

If your kid doesn’t get the job done, offer assistance in organising a work schedule for him to do the assignments independently, but do not yell or nag. Praise and reinforce his efforts, and reward follow-through. It doesn’t have to be a monetary reward. It could be letting him pick what restaurant the family goes to on Friday night, which is the win-win of bonding ritual and positive reinforcement in one fell swoop.

It is also worth repeating the advice that Mr Westwood will have given you when your child was in Grade 8, namely: don’t try and solve all his problems for him, he will fall now and then but he will learn from it. Learning and growing from mistakes develops character and strength. It is your job as a parent to be an effective scaffold to help them grow, but not to get in the way of their learning and development.

At some point this year, probably closer to exams, Eichhorn says to “expect a grumpy, angry, stressed child”. His advice is not to personalise this (Bad child!) and not to take it personally either (Bad parent!) Unfortunately parents are often the convenient target when adolescents need to find an outlet for their stress and frustration,

For other practical bits of advice see for example this article at Parent24 but I will just offer one more: Savour the moments. The year will be filled with long-awaited sports matches, musical and cultural events, as well as numerous social events. Your son will enjoy leadership responsibilities and bond with his “band of matric brothers”. There are also two sets of matric exams in which your son gets to practise before writing finals at the end of the year, and the school does an excellent job of preparing your son for these. 

All the best to you and your sons and remember that you (and he) are welcome to chat to one of the psychologists at the BSU about your concerns.