Dear children: Don’t make the same mistake I did in school.

To my kids,

I know you’re still in primary school, but I’m trying to get in early, before you get to high school and are buried for six years under an avalanche of assignments and assessments. Just a quick bit of advice. Don’t study too hard, okay? Unless you really want to, of course.

I have to say that I’m dreading the thought of you going through high school. It gives me flashbacks to my own high school years, which were the worst years of my life. I studied too hard. I cared too much about school. My self-worth was tied up in the marks I got for tests and the letters on report cards. (What? A B+? How could my teacher do that to me?)

In the end I did a degree where entry was decided on an interview, not just a Year 12 score. I went on to work with some brilliant people who hadn’t all been to university. And I wrote about TV for years and years. Yeah, TV.

I ended up wishing I’d watched more TV as a teenager. A knowledge of E Street and early Home And Away would have been far more beneficial to my career than a grasp of integral calculus. All those report cards were shoved to the back of a dusty drawer and never looked at again.

My kids, I just want you to know that you don’t have to be a brain surgeon or a rocket scientist. Really, you don’t.

If you want to be a brain surgeon, because you have a genuine desire to save people’s lives, or a rocket scientist, because you’re fascinated by the mysteries of the universe, go for it.

(Image: Supplied)

Study your heart out. I will bring you cups of tea and massage your shoulders and run hot baths. I will drive you to every exam and say encouraging things and try to give you strength through my hugs. But if you don’t want to be a brain surgeon or a rocket scientist, ease up. Relax a bit.

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that just because you could get the marks to do a certain course that you should. Leave it to the people who have a real passion for it. You don’t have to impress me or your teachers or anyone else. I’m not living through you. I’ve lived my life – yours is all yours.


There are plenty of unhappy people out there in “good” jobs. Don’t be one of them. A good job is not one that gives you a fancy title or a high salary. A good job is one where you wake up on Monday morning and don’t feel a sense of dread.

If your dream is to bake cupcakes or create a best-selling video game, go for it. Find something you love, and work really hard at it till you’re great at it. That’s what will make me proud of you.

Always remember, it’s okay to fail and it’s okay to change your mind. You’re at high school. It’s not the end, it’s just the beginning.

Listen: Mamamia Out Loud discuss: Should kids just harden up about NAPLAN tests? (post continues after audio...)

Life is full of changes of direction and second chances. There are loads of people I know who have quit their studies or their jobs and ended up doing something completely different. The high-school dropout who went back to school and got good enough marks to study law. The doctor who decided she really wanted to be a nurse. The mum who ran away to join the circus. Eventually, they’ve found their way to the career that’s right for them.

Do other stuff. Try things. Join a choir or a sports team or volunteer to work with kids. Give yourself something to care about apart from schoolwork. Open yourself up to new people and new ideas. The things you do outside of the classroom will probably stick with you a lot longer than the things you do inside. Maybe, just maybe, you’ll enjoy high school.

At least, more than I did. I hope.

Do you agree with Helen's view? Should we take the academic pressure off our kids?