So, exams are looming or already torturing your household. EEEEEK. Or not? Cape Town life coach SALLY BINGHAM and her son Ben tell how they survived his final school exams (known as ‘Matric finals’ in South Africa)…
Secret of success? Ben Bingham got the Matric he wanted despite turning down his mother’s ‘study sweets’ to make jam  |  Photo: Tonya Hester

Mother’s story:

‘Matric finals loomed and the anticipated hype was not visible in our household. ‘Chilled’ summed up the vibe for Ben, but not for me…

Me: Ben, I’d like to up my game with supporting you in your final months of Matric.

Ben: Huh? No, Mom, I don’t want any more support.

Me: Well then, how can I encourage you?

Ben: Ummm, give me money for each A I get.

Me: Not happening. Anything else?

Ben: Yes, you can buy me study sweets … and don’t keep asking me how the studying’s going.

Me: Ok, I’ll buy the sweets, but they can only be eaten if you’re studying.

During this conversation, I agreed not to ask him how his studying was going throughout his finals. I did ask him how his sweet supply was, but had to bite my lip often and trust Benjamin. It helped to process with friends my continued amazement at how little work he did versus how much jam he made, how often he cleaned his room, how many friends he visited, and how he developed his tailoring skills with yet another twist on possibilities for a waistcoat (never a wardrobe staple of his until this moment).

What do I now know?

  1. There are no prizes or gains for worrying, whether you’re a teen or a parent.
  2. Trust your teen – most often they know what needs to be done to achieve their desired result.
  3. You can’t make a Matric student work, but you can love them through the process.
  4. And finally, Matric is overrated! Yes, I wanted Ben to achieve results that would enable him to take the right next step, but I had to remind myself that equally important were the life lessons he learnt while navigating Matric. How to manage pressure, achieve balance in life, or potentially deal with the failure to achieve his goals! It seemed that this learning would be what lasted, and empower him for future challenges. It was sometimes hard to keep this perspective. But the truth is, a week after the Matric results, no one even asked about them!

Seeing friends with academically struggling teens who set them realistic goals, and encouraged them as they discovered their unique strengths, was inspiring. As parents, they helped them let go of the singular focus on results, which don’t measure character, wholeness or future success.’

Son’s story:

‘I found Matric fun. I passed (otherwise I suppose my opinion wouldn’t be valued), and I got into engineering at Cape Town University. This is what I aimed for, wanted to do, and worked towards. Having a goal helps everything. Why? Because if your goal isn’t to get into medicine, you probably don’t need 7 As. Remember, you’re not proving yourself to anyone. Parents who expect you to live up to any other standard but your own are bad parents. Getting stressed and anxious is counter-productive. If you do stress, think about how it won’t help, how no-one always gets what they want – and how you’re no exception. (Maybe your goals aren’t realistic? Prayer can help with this topic).

Parents like to think they’re helping you, so take advantage: it’s a win-win situation. Ask for rewards for marks. No harm in trying. While you’re still at school, listen, learn and do everything you can during classes. Your parents are paying for you to be there (we might as well respect them a little bit, right?). This helps the most. The more you work in class, the less you have to study. It’s the only time you have to pretend to work, so you might as well actually do it.

Studying: I found making repetitive notes useless, and learnt only why stuff happens. When I had to learn content, I used anagrams and diagrams, infinitely more helpful than reading lists of facts. I found it better not to study late: the energy gained sleeping was worth more.

Work and play: if my friends went out, I went with them. If you can’t think of anything to do but work, it’s good to start some hobby. I turned to all sorts of things: making jam, sewing, juggling, fire spinning (start without fire) and even organising my room. Exercise and playing instruments aren’t bad choices, either.’

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