Keeping matric students safe and sane during finals

  • DRSheriFanaroff
Matrics across the country didn’t expect the disrupted year they found themselves in. While some embraced online learning and extra study time with fewer disruptions, many have found it extremely challenging with missed teaching time and lost teacher contact.
by DR SHERI FANAROFF | Oct 15, 2020

Add to this forfeited opportunities such as cancelled matric dances, disappointing online valedictories, and irretrievable sporting and cultural “lasts”, and we have a group of students who feel hard done by, anxious, and unmotivated.

With the threat of COVID-19 putting them into quarantine or isolation, and the risk of missing an exam meaning that they may not matriculate, let’s consider what we can do to help our matrics.

Health tips

Make sure that students get enough sleep. At this age, they should have a minimum of six to eight hours of sleep a night – particularly the night before an exam. Chat to your doctor about melatonin if your matric student struggles to fall asleep at night and wake up early in the morning.

Eat healthy, regular meals and snacks to keep energy levels up.

Make time each day for exercise (even if it’s a short run/walk around the garden or a quick refreshing swim).

Stay well hydrated, and drink lots of water.

Avoid excessive caffeine, particularly in the evening. Energy drinks and Bioplus might give a short burst of energy, but they can make students jittery, have a negative effect on sleep, and generally cause a slump as they wear off.

Only use stimulants such as Ritalin and Concerta if there is a definite diagnosis of ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) or ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) and they have been prescribed. These are schedule 6 medications, and can cause adverse effects.

Make time for relaxation every day – meditate/chat to friends/watch a tv show/or do an enjoyable activity.

Vitamins and immune boosters are a good idea. I recommend Vitamin B (a Neurobion injection works well if they are really run down), Vitamin C, Vitamin D, and Zinc. Alternatively one good multivitamin such as Centrum or Supradyn is a good option.

Reduce outside exposure

Shield matric students from exposure that will put them at risk of either contracting COVID-19 or becoming a close contact of someone who has been infected. If they do get exposed or infected, they will need to be in quarantine or isolation for 10 to 14 days. This will mean they miss out on writing exams, and may not be able to matriculate with their class.

Matrics and their families should practice stringent hand hygiene, social distancing, and mask wearing.

They should carefully consider whether it’s worth the risk of joining any parties or large gatherings, particularly in indoor venues, for the next few weeks. Remember that infected people may shed virus and be contagious for up to 72 hours before developing symptoms.

In every setting, they should ask themselves, “If someone who is at this gathering calls in a couple of days to say they have contracted the virus, will I be considered a close contact?” This means they should avoid close contact (within 1.5m) for extended periods (more than 15 minutes) with anyone outside of their immediate household.

If family members have outside contact, then in the home, the matric student should be considered a high-risk individual and should stay apart from the rest of the family (1.5m away) and wear a mask if not in their own room. When eating together, sit at a distance of at least 2m, preferably outside, or shield the matric student behind a Perspex screen. When travelling in the car as a group, consider wearing masks and leaving windows open.

Some schools are making accommodation for infection, and might allow healthy quarantined students to write in a separate venue. Some schools are even providing a venue where students who have tested positive but are well enough to write are allowed to attend.

If students develop any symptoms: fever, cough, sore throat, headaches etc, consult your doctor about whether they should be tested for COVID-19.

Mental health

This year, more than ever, matric students need the unconditional support of their parents and families. Expect moodiness and grumpiness from your teen. Try to remain a calm and reassuring source of comfort.

Matric exams are highly stressful and pressurised, creating anxiety and nervousness in even the most laid-back of students.

Teenagers do need their friends – encourage them to connect electronically or to have COVID-safe interactions, sticking to one or two friends, distanced, outside, and wearing masks.

It’s important to get the balance right – short but enjoyable breaks from studying will lead to more productive study time.

Limit time on social media. It can become hugely time consuming and addictive to scroll through Instagram or YouTube, leaving much less time for revision. Encourage students to put their phones in another room to minimise distraction while studying.

Phones should be switched off and preferably in another room once students have gone to bed. Try to do something other than having screen time before bed so that the mind can switch off.

Reassure your matric student that the results of exams aren’t as important as they seem at this point in their life. Nobody will ask them in job interviews how many distinctions they got in matric.

If your matric student is really struggling with anxiety or panic symptoms, speak to a psychologist and your GP about treatment options.

The next few weeks are going to be particularly tough. Don’t let the threat of COVID-19 quarantine or isolation ruin plans for university or gap years in 2021. Stay vigilant, socialise safely only when necessary, and hold out until the end.

  • Dr Sheri Fanaroff is a GP in private practice in Johannesburg.


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