You’re listening to the Parents of Hardworking Teens Podcast, episode 58 - the idea that results don’t matter AND that also, they do. This is going to be a big one. Let’s go.
Hello Very Important Parents!
I really hope you’re doing great and that you are ready for a little bit of a rant and what I’m sure is going to turn into a longer than usual episode today. Because to me, this is an important topic and it’s one that I’m finding I’m thinking about more and more at the moment. It’s this idea that ‘results aren’t important’ and students are being told not to stress because results don’t matter and how much we as adults are being urged to tell this to teenagers, to make sure they know that.
Honestly, right now - I’m very open to your thoughts and opinions on this, genuinely please do email email@example.com. Or leave a comment wherever you are listening to this - but honestly I don’t 100% agree with that and I have NEVER told a student - your results don’t matter.
I absolutely understand the intent behind it and I can totally get on board with that. That we want to protect their mental health, make sure they know their worth as a human is not related to their grades. But I just don’t feel that a blanket statement like ‘results don’t matter’ is the most positive or most constructive way to go about presenting that intent and I’ve had a couple of conversations and situations recently that have spurred me on to share this opinion on the podcast - and it is just that - my opinion. I’m sure there are people who disagree and I really am open to all of that. This isn’t right or wrong and in fact it’s this whole Idea of extremes at one end of the scale or the other that is one of the issues I have with this which I’ll get into in a moment.
I want to share this because if you or your teen do value results, scores in a test, grades on a report card in some way shape or form or see that they do impact your teen’s self-belief or identify, then I hope that it might be helpful to you to hear that there is someone out there i.e. me, who doesn’t think that is all bad. That I think it’s okay to attach some value to that. And, to be clear, I’m no teen psychologist, I’m no parenting or teen expert, I don’t even have my own children. I just have my own experiences - and specifically, they are having worked with teenagers in high schools across the UK and Australia and online internationally in Rock Solid Study for over 17 years, from when I was a teenager who did want to do well at school but was almost embarrassed by that and certainly would never share it out loud, and as an educator who now is committed to coaching and training and supporting other students in that same boat.
So this is not one of my how-to or here are the 3 steps type of episode. But that’s because, I think this is a really nuanced topic and that it’s different for everyone. Because I totally acknowledge and yes, I do agree, that ‘results don’t matter’. But also, they do. And maybe that’s okay. Maybe it’s possible that both can be true.
If we really, really think about it. No, results DON’T matter. Your teen’s exam results, ATAR score, their ranking, whatever it is, no they don’t matter.
In the same way that it doesn’t actually matter which team wins the league. It doesn’t really matter if the pianist messes up their concert performance, or if the student doesn’t get into their top choice of uni course, or what we have for dinner.
I mean none of it REALLY matters.
But, some things do matter to some people.
Having things that we care about or want to work towards or achieve is what makes life interesting, it’s what makes us as people, as individuals unique, it’s what gives us purpose. And so, maybe it’s okay that for some students, or even, dare I say, for all students in SOME way, that results do matter at least a bit, or even a lot to some students. And not because they affect their worth as a person, or define them and all these other things that we have drilled into us with all the messages about how results don’t matter every year around exam time, but simply because some students want to work hard and some students want to take the direct path to uni and some just want to give things their very best even if they have no idea what they’ll do next, or to go after a goal and enjoy the experience of success when they achieve it AND for it to be okay if they don’t achieve it.
I think that the issue here is that things are talked about at the extremes. And as I’ve thought more and more about this recently, I think this might be my overall key point. That there is a healthy middle ground where we can have the positives that happen when we do put meaning or importance on something, and we can also minimise the negatives that arise when we sit at one extreme; put zero importance on anything, or at the other extreme, when we make everything about a certain result.
So, my question really is, if we know and accept that ‘results aren’t everything’ and we are aware of the dangers for some students who feel that for them, they are, and that is causing them harmful levels of stress and anxiety… the question is, is going straight to the other extreme to try to counter that by declaring, ‘results don’t matter’ or ‘results aren’t important’ the best reaction - or best action? (Especially when, kind of in brackets, they’re also still being told to try their best).
Results don’t matter, but still try your best. Does that even make sense?
I feel like it’s gone too far. Every year, around exam results day, there are posts on social media and articles in newspapers about successful people who were high school drop outs and that numbers on a page don’t define who you are, and the headteacher who writes to parents to reassure them that there is more to being a human than Naplan or Sats results.
All of which are true. Nothing wrong with any of them, but again, I believe there’s an AND here. That yes, that is true AND there is also value in working hard, doing your best and having goals and wanting to achieve, and yes, even in getting good grades. There IS value in that for some, or I would even argue for many students. There just aren’t absolutes.
There is a scale.
Even the language is extreme when we look to dissect these common statements. Results aren’t EVERYTHING. Results don’t matter. Yes, When a student feels like their results are EVERYTHING, that’s when we see them put themselves under huge amounts of stress and pressure, working themselves to the bone, and we see the harm this does to their mental and emotional health, sometimes also their physical health as well.
But I just don’t love the idea of saying something which is part of almost every teenager’s life - their education, and the assessment and exams that come along with that, saying that doesn’t matter. I know there is more to school life than the academics. There’s the social side and developing themselves as a person, but when we try to minimise the academic elements in order to reduce stress or prevent burnout, (and let’s remember that not all stress is bad, some temporary low levels of stress are absolutely okay and even beneficial in some circumstances) what I have seen is that it sometimes minimises and embarrasses those students who do care, and who do want good results and do want to work hard, who do value the academic side and yes, the results. They almost feel wrong for wanting top results, and question themselves, when all the celebs and teenage experts and media are saying otherwise. And sometimes I see it dampening the work ethic and drive of those students who are in the middle, who are perhaps slightly at risk of becoming more on the slack side and of course, for those students who really could use a bit of gee-ing up, it’s unlikely to help them either.
I recently spoke to a friend of mine who has had this experience with her daughter. Her daughter is a good kid, but just doesn’t try that hard. She’s happy coasting, and her mum, my friend, was telling me that she just would like to see her put in a bit more effort, not just do the bare basics. She wants her to be able to see that she could do better than just pass. And was actually feeling pretty frustrated with the school because one of her daughter’s teachers was telling her daughter that results don’t matter, she’s passing, and this was the part that got to her, that her mum was putting too much pressure on her.
Also recently, I had a consult with a parent of a student in the 10WGT and she was telling me that she’d enrolled her daughter because her daughter really wanted to do well, she wanted to push herself, but she wasn’t being pushed to her potential at school. She would ask if there was any extra practise she could do, or if there were any other exercises she could do or books that would be good to read, and her and the mum were both always being told that she’s doing fine. The mum wasn’t pushing her or putting on pressure, but she was supportive that her daughter wanted to do more and that it wouldn’t be detrimental and her daughter wanted to do more than just fine.
Now, of course I’m only getting one side of the story each time here. And I know that for many parents, just getting their teen to be passing or fine would be great. I know that some students don’t respond well to being pushed and actually flourish when they are left much more to their own devices. This is all extremely nuanced and every student, parent, teacher is different and I have no doubt that everyone is coming from a caring place and wants the best for any teen.
But I wonder whether we have all gotten a little bit too scared to push anyone for fear that we might be accused of doing damage or even, indeed actually doing damage. But, for me, constantly saying or putting out the message that results don’t matter, doesn’t feel like the most positive or indeed the healthiest path either.
In sport, we absolutely talk about how it’s the taking part that counts, and the end score isn’t the be all and end all. But we still play to win. We do still compete. Otherwise it feels kinda pointless. We’re just running around, or passing a ball for no real reason - and that doesn’t feel great either.
Do we want to create a life with no pressure, no stress because we set no challenge or never push ourselves? Even if the actual results aren’t important, and remember - we’ve considered here that actually nothing is important if we think really deeply about it all - we can still play to win for the fun, the purpose, the pride and feel good of the win. There is value from the experience of doing your best and putting in effort. We say we want students to have a good work ethic, and we see teenagers get a bad rap for being lazy, but then they’re told results don’t matter. And yes, there are other things in life that teenagers can absolutely be putting effort into, sports, hobbies, music, clubs and interests - and that’s great. But I don’t see them being told publicly and repeatedly or, even in school itself, and certainly not in the club itself that that thing actually doesn’t matter.
And let’s face it, there are ways that academic results do matter - both tangible and intangible ways. The practical or tangible reasons why results do or at least CAN matter are things like needing certain results to get into certain universities or courses. Now, yes there are bridging courses, and yes there are ‘so many different pathways these days’ - and that’s true, But the alternatives are almost always longer and therefore also cost more. Which means giving more money to the uni, taking on more student debt, and at least another year or two to get into doing the thing you want to. And although we could argue that doesn’t really matter either, it is SOMETHING. It’s not NOTHING. There IS a consequence to this. It doesn’t mean that these things are more important than our teen’s mental health, or having a positive life experience, but it’s not NOTHING - and when you’re 30 and need an extra 20 or 30 grand to put into the deposit for a property, it matters.
Another tangible reason results matter is that good results create more future options. If a student doesn’t need certain results for the career they want right now, all good - IF they stick to the same career all their life, which is less and less likely these days. I went and looked this up and research says that most people will go through 3 to 7 career changes in life. Maybe none of them will need higher grades, AND maybe they will. My sister is a perfect example of this. Now she is naturally super-smart. She was the kid that teachers would say talks too much in class, but then still gets an A. Yeah, annoying. To the teachers - and to me who was sitting doing hours and hours of homework, doing all the things.
When she left college at 18 with, I think probably about the same results as me - (I’m actually not even sure - I had three Bs and one A - but she did it with very little to no effort, whereas I was in the library and doing revision, working super hard) she didn’t want to go to uni and worked at an art gallery, well it was more like a unique art shop, it sold art, but it called itself a gallery and then worked in the marketing and design department for the Birmingham Royal ballet. We were very different, me and my sister, growing up. And then, when she was about, I think maybe 26 or 27, she decided to… wait for it, yep… she decided that she wanted to become a Vet. Not as in take a vocational VET course. An actual medical animal veterinary surgeon. Because when she met her partner a couple of years before that, he had a dog which he’d adopted from a rescue centre, and when they moved in together they fostered dogs from the local rescue centre which got her into the idea of becoming a vet. And of course B grades wouldn’t cut it. So she had to go back and re-take some of her A’Levels - to get them up to A’s, which of course, she did, but not without paying for them all at adult education rates and having to spend an extra year on top of the 5 years of actual veterinary study to do it.
So, yes it worked out fine, and did the results really matter back at the age of 18? In some ways, no. But would she have rather gone straight to vet school- Yes.
Having our best possible results, is not the only route or path to future careers, but it also does give us our best range and fastest paths of options.
So tangibly better results mean less money spent, less time spent, and more options.
And then, of course, there are those less tangible ways that results can matter. And arguably these are the most important. Like the experience of having a goal and working towards it. Whether or not we achieve it, there is value in that. But, let’s face it, also actually having the goal and working towards it in the first place is going to mean it’s a lot more likely that it’ll be achieved. I don’t know anyone who didn’t set out to become a doctor and then just somehow became one, or who never actually decided or trained to run a marathon but it just ended up happening. Big things do require intention and attention.
Which brings me to the conflict in messages that are currently being pitched to teens. At the exact same time, the other current trend right now is to tell kids to dream big! You can do anything you want if you put your mind to it. And again, I’m all up for that. But you know what? To achieve big things, you likely need to work hard, you will likely at some point feel under pressure or have some healthy and productive levels of stress. And if you want to become a doctor or a vet or programmer for Google, you’re going to need good grades.
The other buzz word at the moment is resilience. Building resilient teens. Again nothing wrong with that. I’m all up for both of those - dreaming big, building resilience. But I actually went and Googled the definition of resilience and the top result was:
‘Adapting to difficult or challenging life experiences’ and the next one was: “to withstand or recover quickly from difficulties”.
If we’re not pursuing difficult things or rising to challenges, then how do we expect to build resilience to adapt or overcome them? Do we just wait for bad things to happen to build resilience? Or do we take control and create our own challenges that will also create big things?
If we just do the basics, don’t push too hard and just hope that life will work out then how will our teens achieve big things, live their dreams or build resilience?
In fact, when we TRY, we CREATE opportunity. We create big dreams. We open up possibilities. If we don’t try, it almost certainly won’t happen. And it’s also okay if we try and it doesn’t happen. If we tell ourselves or advise students not to go after something because there is a chance that it won’t happen, we shield them from disappointment. I talk a lot about helping students overcome the hurdles that have had them previously experiencing disappointing results. So I don’t want to confuse my messages and what I’m sharing here. Yes, I want to turn around those disappointing results. Because the problem there is when your teen gets a disappointing result but doesn’t really know why or doesn’t know what to do differently next time. That’s where my training and insights come in. Just being disappointed time and time again can and does result in long term loss of confidence or self belief. But I don’t believe the answer is to decide that the results don’t matter.
I prefer to teach students strategies to uplevel their results if they want to, rather than have them give up and go along with the narrative that they don’t matter anyway, whilst still holding the feeling that they failed, weren’t good enough or weren’t so smart anyway. Now, if working with the knowledge that results don’t matter is the best thing, most appropriate thing for your teen to do, then of course that’s great. But - for many students, no matter what they’re told, they don’t believe that. And I for one agree with them. In some way, shape of form, they usually do matter - and not just as a number on a page or as an entry to uni. But for all the intangible reasons as well or instead.
And as well as there being consequences of results mattering too much, I think there are consequences of telling students they don’t matter at all. I think we can all agree that the negatives of being too focused on results can be significant. But I ALSO think that right now, it’s generally felt that if that comes at the cost of other students not achieving their potential, or their work ethic being diluted, their drive being dampened, or even them just feeling embarrassed or not supported then that’s okay, because those consequences are not as drastic. And maybe each individual one is not. But I know that so many of you have teens who do want to achieve, who just want to do their best and work hard, and if we put all of those together, then that is pretty significant too.
Years ago, not even related to my thinking about this, I kind of evolved the tag line for the aim or Rock Solid Study to be helping students achieve their best ever results AND enjoy the journey along the way.
I even followed it with a sentence in brackets after that says (I’m very much about the AND). I think I was onto something with that emphasis on the AND.
So, instead of operating at or focusing on the extremes, can we make space for the idea that the results DON’T matter and also DO matter? Can it be okay for those students who want to go for top results, to go for them, with support and encouragement, rather than bombarding them with - don’t worry, they don’t matter.
Personally and this is just me personally, I see that results CAN matter and we could do better in finding ways to encourage students who are going after them, in a healthy and sustainable way. Results can matter or even results do matter, is not the same as results are everything. I think we can work to build awareness to not exclude one, for fear of the other.
I think it’s okay for students to hold the idea that no, just like almost anything in life, results don’t matter AND I want to get my best possible results. And I am here to support any student who’s on that same wavelength.
Have a wonderful week and I’ll see you back here next week.