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Exam stress drives thousands to seek help from Childline

Charity founder: Esther Rantzen
Charity founder: Esther Rantzen
Claire Williamson

By Claire Williamson

Thousands of young people across the UK have turned to Childline for support as they struggle with exam stress.

There were 2,795 counselling sessions for children about exam stress in 2018/19, with around a third taking place in April and May.

Staff and volunteers at Childline's two Northern Ireland bases, in Belfast and Foyle, delivered 356 counselling sessions to children contacting them from across the UK.

These figures refer to the number of counselling sessions and not the number of children counselled.

Young people who were stressed about their exams told Childline they were worried about disappointing their parents, about trying their best and still failing, about having excessive workloads and about feeling unmotivated to revise.

A teenage boy told Childline: "I am about to take my GCSEs and I am under so much stress that I find it hard to motivate myself. My friends are studying a lot, which is putting me under more pressure.

"I've tried talking to my mum but it ends up in an argument because she gets angry when I don't study."

Other young people told Childline counsellors the prospect of taking exams was having an adverse effect on their mental health, with some coping by self-harming and others saying they were feeling suicidal.

The most common ages for exam stress counselling were 15 and 16, with children in that groups studying for GCSEs.

Childline is urging all young people to speak out if they are stressed about their exams, especially boys, as figures reveal they are five times less likely than girls to talk to counsellors about the pressure they are under.

Anna Williamson, Childline counsellor and writer of teen book How Not to Lose It, said: "It is vital that family, friends and teachers are there to support children and teenagers during this stressful time.

"My advice to parents would be to never say 'It wasn't like this in my day' - children won't care and it isn't about you. Also, never compare siblings.

"What you can do is ask if they need anything, say you are proud of them and offer an end-of-exams celebration to help them visualise (the tests) being over."

Dame Esther Rantzen, founder and president of Childline, said: "I hated exams and I absolutely understand why they stress so many young people out. They can be important, but they shouldn't be overwhelming.

"That's why it's vital that Childline is there to support any young people who feel the pressure is unbearable."

NSPCC advice for young people taking exams:

• Make sure you take regular breaks from revising and do some exercise;

• Go to bed at a reasonable time and try and get some sleep;

• Try to think positively - even if you don't feel like it, a positive attitude will help you during your revision;

• Remember that everyone's different - try not to compare yourself to your friends.

Advice for parents and carers:

• Don't place unnecessary pressure on your children to gain certain grades;

• Encourage children to take regular breaks, eat snacks and exercise;

• Help them revise by giving them space and time to do so;

• Be supportive and help alleviate their worries by talking to them.

Adults concerned about a child can contact the NSPCC helpline seven days a week on 0808 800 5000, or email help@nspcc.org.uk. Children can call Childline on 0800 11 11 or www.childline.org.uk any time of the day or night.

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