Our house is at the epicentre of a stress bomb at the moment and like many families around the country, we have a teenager preparing for and taking Mock GCSE exams. Or we should have. What we actually have is a teenager who is micro planning her 15 birthday in early July instead of revising. Not wanting to scare or pressure M, we introduced the idea of mock exams over a period of time so not to overwhelm her, but sadly she is far from overwhelmed, she doesn’t really care. This is surprisingly out of character for her as she has high expectations for herself and her life but she is unable to see past the potential social suicide of a failed birthday party.
M has changed schools or moved areas so many times in the past few years and made and lost countless friends, so it’s unsurprising that friendship is important to her. Before coming to us, she had no real friends and hadn’t been in school for four months. Since starting at her current school where she is doing well; achieving or exceeding her target grades, it’s actually her ability to make and more importantly to keep friends that has been the biggest change. This had previously been a long term issue for M, with social workers and previous carers commenting on her inability to maintain any friendship. We’ve actively enabled M to have friends and Hubby and I have been a willing taxi and social secretary for her; dropping her off, changing plans so she can be at events or parties and having countless sleepovers.
We understand how important the upcoming party is for her as her last birthday was a lot of a letdown as she wasn’t truly well-established in any social group and Claire was only just becoming her closest friend. This year she is at the centre of a group of teenage girls who are popular and pretty and the party means everything to her. So far this year she has been to a nail art demo and participation party, jewellery design party and a high end scavenger hunt. We have promised that as soon as her mocks are over, we will prioritise her party but we are still having problems getting her to focus and revise.
Hubby suggested she write herself a revision plan several weeks ago in the hope that if we treat her in an adult manner, she would respond accordingly. M has lots of good strategies and really means what she says at the time she says it, but finds it hard to follow through on her intentions. Even when all excuses and procrastination have been exhausted, getting her to sit down and follow through on actual revision has been like pulling teeth. This week has been hard as the bulk of revision should have been done and the exams are upon us. M is panicking slightly now and even though she’s genuinely worried, her stress over planning and throwing the perfect party is an even bigger worry.
Usually a good student, apart from the occasional class room clown performance, M generally does well in end of term tests and I know she knows the work and is likely to do well in her Mock exams in spite of the lack of revision. What worries me more is her need for social acceptance to the detriment of everything else. M is popular but is unwaveringly secretive about her past, so the pupils at school don’t know she is in foster care. They think she lives with her Aunty and Uncle and M feels should anyone find out, they will judge her harshly so she protects her past at all costs. The need to be accepted is second to none, so to ease her mind I made a few suggestions about the party which, to my surprise haven’t been completely dismissed.
My pizza and cinema trip was met with eye rolling and I realised it did not match up to Yasmin’s coconut themed pool party planned for August, so I upped my game; party bus with DJ (didn’t get an eye roll so I took that as a possibility), make up artist party (M said that was actually a good idea) and my piece de la resistance was the chocolate design making party hosted by a real chocolatier chef. I hoped with at least the basics planned she would worry less and revise more.
We presume that at this time of year, exams are the only things that teens worry about. Social acceptance is vital to all teenagers and can be a big concern to parents when their children are excluded from social events or bullied. To a Looked After Child who has been unable to establish roots or friendship allegiances, it can mean everything and is even more important than exam results. I spoke to Claire’s mum about a different matter and was surprised to learn that she is having similar problems getting Claire to revise and that her daughter has become the Queen of Procrastination, even willing to chip into household cleaning rather than actually sit down and revise. I had wrongly assumed that M was a minority and all her class mates were revising hard however, whilst I’m still worried about her results, I know her need to be part of an established friendship group is just as important.