“It’s the worry and not knowing if I’m saying the right thing and not understanding the answers to straightforward questions” fretted a woman I overheard in Next the other day. “I know, I know” replied her friend, “but when they’ve finished their GCSEs I’m sure things will calm down”. Exam season is hard on everyone, so many expectations ride on the outcomes. Teachers and parents want the young people to do their best, and the exam candidates not only have that cumulative worry weighing them down, but may also have suddenly realised that they simply haven’t done enough work over the course of the syllabus. Too bad, the term will end, the sun will come out and everyone can relax.
Relax a bit, I would suggest, and then get a bit tough. The experiences and adventures of the summer holidays, particularly once you are about 15, lay the foundations for what you can do in the future. Some young people seem to understand this intuitively – others need a persuasive nudge. So before they get too cosy at home, open the door and send them back out.
Let’s put to one side certain elements of concern. I am not suggesting child labour; this is not removing any rights of a child to play; health and safety principles – aka common sense – should be applied; if you wouldn’t want to work with a particular individual for whatever reason don’t encourage your child to do so. Money making isn’t the main point of this kind of work – if a job has been done well then getting paid is a good reward, but the experience also has value.
The opportunity for young people to work at something should be seized with both hands. If there is a summer job that they could do, encourage them to apply for it and get stuck in. If such a job can’t be found, depending on the person’s age, there are so many other things that can be done, for example: look after a neighbour’s pets / garden while they are away; mow the lawn for someone else; walk their dog; lend a hand at a fete (preferably at the setting up and tidying away stages as well as the middle, fun, bit); pick soft fruit; tidy up a garden shed…. one chap I know used to be paid by his dad for killing wasps round the bins at his father’s pub.
I would urge anyone who can to offer a young person a chance to do something – doing something simple, straightforward and achievable is how we all learn to work. It teaches us to arrive at the right place with the right kit. It teaches us that all tasks can have integrity and value, that many things are boring but have to be done. And it shows us that to have a sense of satisfaction in a job well done you don’t need super-top grades in written exams.
An open door and a sense of adventure are the perfect way to start to find out about the world beyond your school and family. Many school leavers go travelling – but I would suggest it is a much more pleasant experience if you have built up to it by going roaming when you were in your early teens. Simply take a train trip somewhere new – without any “grown-ups”. And if the motivation to go adventuring isn’t quite fully functioning yet may I suggest parents make homelife very, very boring, turn off the TV and Wi-Fi and lose all the chargers.
*The picture shows two children planting spring bulbs with spoons – a job worth doing, though it might have been easier if there had been some proper tools…