Advice for parents, from parents, about surviving VCE

Completing high school is a massive undertaking. It's a rollercoaster of emotion, not only for teens but for their parents and caregivers too. Geoff, a father of two teenagers, describes it as ‘a high-stress crescendo’. To better understand how to support students in Years 11 and 12, we asked parents for their top tips for surviving VCE.

Show them the relevance of what they’re learning

Rather than entering the battle of bluntly telling kids they have to study, parents can instead help their kids understand how course content is useful and relevant to their interests.

That’s the advice of Paul*, who currently has two sons completing VCE and a daughter in year nine. Paul reflected on his own experience of high school and the moment he realised he wanted to be an electrician.

‘I luckily got an apprenticeship,’ Paul recalls. ‘They sat us down on day one at trade school, and they said, “If you don’t know trig or maths, you’ll struggle.” I had no interest in maths but once I started looking at it in relation to something I was interested in, I loved it. I flourished.’

Even if your kids don’t have a particular dream job in mind, parents can play a role in helping them to connect the dots between areas of interest and the skills that might serve them well in the future. Got a passionate sportsperson who hates studying languages? Explain that those foreign phrases will come in handy if they end up touring the world!

Help them advocate for themselves

Parents and caregivers play an important role in encouraging their children to get what they need out of their own education, believes Geoff, whose year 11 son Riley has been significantly impacted by dyslexia. Self advocating can be an important skill for kids with unique learning needs who might get overlooked in a busy classroom.

‘He’s a round peg, and the VCE structure is a square hole,’ Geoff explains. ‘We helped Riley be the best advocate for himself. At the start of each new year, Riley will say to his teacher, “I have dyslexia, this is what I need.” He needs to work hard, but it’s his journey.’

Geoff sees Riley’s education as a ‘three-point model’ that integrates expectations set by the school and teachers, support from parents, and Riley's own participation and advocacy for his needs.

Geoff believes that teaching kids to self advocate is important, but parents still need to be ready to step in where needed. 'As parents, our ongoing active participation throughout the year is crucial,' Geoff adds. 'In consultation with your child, of course.'

Teach them time management skills

Balancing schoolwork, sports commitments, part-time work and everything else can be a real challenge for busy year 12 students. Matt* and Catherine*, who are both teachers with two teenage boys, believe effective time management is crucial for both your child’s – and your entire household’s – sanity.

‘The important thing is balance,’ explains Matt. ‘We want them to do sport, part-time work and socialise.’

So how can parents help their child to achieve this balance? For Matt and Catherine the key is time management and planning. On Sundays, Matt, Catherine and their kids get out the whiteboard and plan their week. ‘We get the old coaches’ board, and say, “Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, what are you doing?” And that gives us a heads up, if they’re going to be under pressure, I can ask them, “Should you be doing part-time shifts at Woolies? Should you be doing all your football training?”’

While there are hiccups along the way, Matt believes that this approach helps the kids learn through trial and error. For Matt and Catherine, time management is about more than just surviving VCE. Helping your kids master their schedules will set them up for success long into the future as they go one to balance work and life commitments.

Provide some stress relief

As Kate’s children studied through their final two years of high school, she watched them become serious and study in silence. ‘They were so focused on their studies that I noticed that they weren’t taking many breaks. So, to encourage them to look after themselves, I focused on making them laugh,’ she says.

Throughout the year, Kate would sneak to the shops, returning with slinkies, googly eye stickers and toy cars.

‘They were silly little toys and trinkets that they hadn’t thought about since they were in primary school. By making them laugh, even at something stupid, I could encourage them to stop thinking about school for a few minutes.’

Remind them that life is a marathon, not a sprint

For some teenagers, VCE feels like it is the be-all and end-all. But for many parents it is important to help their kids see beyond VCE results and understand that there are many pathways and options available to them.

Florencia's daughter Mora has always been very driven and tenacious, but even for strong students, VCE  can be a difficult process to navigate. ‘When Mora started high school, it was all results-driven,' Florencia explains. 'The message that the students had was make it, or break it... Or they wouldn’t be able to achieve their professional goals in life.’

To counter this, Florencia has tried to foster a culture of lifelong learning that looks far beyond VCE, encouraging Mora to thrive in her own way.

Geoff agrees that kids shouldn’t feel they need to have their lives figured out by the time they finish school. With a 50 year career ahead of them, he says it doesn't make sense to put so much pressure on kids in VCE.

'I’m blown away by how many options there are apart from the ATAR,' says Geoff. 'Riley wants to go to university to study business, but if he doesn’t get the ATAR he needs, there are other options to get to university. It’s not all about year 12.’

For many parents, the most important thing is being aware of your child’s unique needs and supporting them on their journey, no matter what that looks like.

For more information and tips to support your teen, visit Deakin’s parents and caregivers hub.


*Names have been changed to protect privacy.