Test­ing times

If it’s June it must be exam time. Who’d be a teenager . . . or a par­ent, come to that?

EADT Suffolk - - Before You Go... - Lucy Ether­ing­ton jour­nal­ist, wife, mother, try­ing to un­der­stand the mean­ing of it all

This month, I have a daughter do­ing A-lev­els, fin­ish­ing on June 20 (yay!), fol­lowed by, one pre­sumes, a sum­mer spent ra­bidly dis­tract­ing her with ‘fun’ things. It seems cruel mak­ing them wait for re­sults. But then, the whole sys­tem seems cruel.

I like ed­u­ca­tion, but that is be­cause I’m mid­dle aged. Mid­dle aged peo­ple love learn­ing things, do­ing work­shops, de­grees, read­ing pop­u­lar science books, watch­ing nar­cis­sis­tic ex-teach­ers present science pro­grammes on BBC4. We are the per­fect stu­dents, and com­pletely for­get that, back in the day, all we cared about was Top of the Pops and back­comb­ing.

“I hate physics,” my son says to me. “How can you hate physics? It’s about the uni­verse, the na­ture of ev­ery­thing,” I say, try­ing to ges­tic­u­late ex­cit­edly like that science lady on TV.

“It’s re­ally bor­ing.” “How can it be bor­ing? It’s black holes, and time be­ing bendy, and worm holes, and sci-fi stuff.”

“It’s just about things mov­ing. And things be­ing hot. And my teacher sounds like Marvin The Para­noid An­droid from The Hitch­hik­ers Guide to the Gal­axy.” (For those who haven’t read Hitch­hik­ers, Marvin is a ro­bot with a ‘brain the size of a planet’ and clin­i­cal de­pres­sion. The two are not un­re­lated). I for­get that year 9 science is not taught by a Carlo Rovelli, Stephen Hawkins or in­deed a Dou­glas Adams, but an or­di­nary man hav­ing a per­sonal cri­sis be­cause he’s been forced to cut out all the in­ter­est­ing parts of physics, which pre­sum­ably he once loved, as much as I once loved Echo and the Bun­ny­men.

Imag­ine hav­ing to talk to a class of 13-year-olds about the com­po­si­tion of early 1980s hair gel, a key com­po­nent to the Echo and the Bun­ny­man oeu­vre, but not as en­gag­ing or im­por­tant as the al­bum Por­cu­pine, or Ian Mc­Cul­loch’s ex­tra-cur­ric­u­lar ac­tiv­i­ties? Why do they do that in school? Why don’t they teach the mind-blow­ing stuff first, then add the bor­ing stuff as you grow older and grow to like facts, the way you grow to like wine, and olives and comfy trousers?

Chil­dren, es­pe­cially ado­les­cents, are vastly imag­i­na­tive and creative and funny with acute bull de­tec­tors. I won­der who de­cided to stymie that, to make them bored, con­form­ist, anx­ious and in­se­cure? Was it the Vic­to­ri­ans, per­chance? All I can say is, “It gets bet­ter.” June, a month of sun­shine and gai­ety – and my el­dest is im­pris­oned in her dark­ened room, do­ing a Car­rie in Home­land wallchart and scowl­ing at the sun. You are only as happy as your un­hap­pi­est child, they say. June is toast for me, then.

What can we par­ents do to make exam month eas­ier for our­selves? Bear­ing in mind for the kids it’s a write-off. At the very least, they’re learn­ing about tun­nels and lights at the end of them, an im­por­tant life les­son.

Avoid go­ing home. Do lots of fun things with your friends, go on hol­i­day, check into an ashram in Goa, go find your­self, or some­one else. There’s noth­ing worse than a stressed teenager, so avoid seeing them for a month and go party.

Never ask them how their day went. You will be sucked into a mine­field where all your in­sight­ful pos­i­tive psy­chol­ogy will be shot to pieces, leav­ing you a husk pon­der­ing the point of your ex­is­tence. Don’t be up­beat in their vicin­ity. Chan­nel your own in­ner teenager and out-teen them. Dye your hair pink, binge watch Su­per­nat­u­ral and only eat pizza and Su­per Noo­dles. Just don’t do Vodka shots. They make you very ill and be­have in­ap­pro­pri­ately, and at your age, that is never a good look.

Buy them huge ex­pen­sive gifts. This is all your fault. If you had started a rev­o­lu­tion and over­turned the sys­tem in­stead of buy­ing houses and get­ting into debt, they would be do­ing na­tional ser­vice, like work­ing on re­cy­cling plants or vol­un­teer­ing at old peo­ple’s homes, in­stead of tak­ing ex­ams so they can get into debt, too. Buy your­self huge ex­pen­sive gifts. Spend all their univer­sity sav­ings and tell them they’ll have to ap­ply for a loan like ev­ery­one else.

Or – just be nice and re­spect­ful, and keep a po­lite dis­tance. Med­i­tate, make tea, take up bas­ket weav­ing. It’ll be over soon. Then you can spend the sum­mer not think­ing about the re­sults . . . lucyether1@ya­hoo.co.uk


Chan­nel your own in­ner teenager and out-teen them. Dye your hair pink, binge watch Su­per­nat­u­ral


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