Senior Moments (High School, that is) for Parents

By Jacki Post Ashkin, MSW, LCSW-C

So, your child is entering senior year in high school. Top dog. Big shot on campus. The finish line is in sight. Congratulations!

Now hold on to your proverbial hat.  This year is a roller coaster ride of milestones, deadlines and transitions that will test your nerves and your relationship with your child.  There are no easy guidelines or answers for navigating this year, but a heads-up about what’s coming may help you feel a bit more prepared.

College applications: If your child is college-bound, the college application process is going to be a major focus for the first 3 to 4 months.  It is a stressful time for you and your senior.  Hopefully by now you’ve at least discussed parameters for which types of schools can be considered – in-state vs. out-of-state, public vs. private, maximum distance from home, cost factors, etc.  Allowing your child to apply to a school you know will be out of the question only sets up a major fight if  they get accepted.

The application process is complex and deadline driven, requiring a lot of organizational and time management skills.  If your child comes by those naturally and is very self-motivated, consider yourself lucky.  But most kids need some help because the process can be overwhelming and they have to fit it in between school work, extra-curriculars and, of course, partying. You will have to stay on top of making sure that essays get written, transcript requests are submitted to the guidance counselor, teacher recommendations and SAT scores are sent — all by a tight deadline.  Tension is almost inevitable and procrastination only makes this worse.  Now is the time to map out a time table.  Creating a spreadsheet is helpful. Oh, and now is also the time to brush up on your deep breathing and relaxation techniques.

Usually, by December, the application crush is over and everyone can breathe again. That is, until colleges begin sending out their decision letters.  Then you and your child may find yourselves holding your breath. Acceptance letters feel amazing, but for more about helping your child handle rejections, click here.

Senioritis: Usually around the time that the college application process ends, “senioritis” kicks in.  I love this definition from Urban Dictionary. Senioritis: noun. A crippling disease that strikes high school seniors. Symptoms include: laziness, an over-excessive wearing of track pants, old athletic shirts, sweatpants, athletic shorts, and sweatshirts. Also features a lack of studying, repeated absences, and a generally dismissive attitude. The only known cure is a phenomenon known as Graduation. The best you can do in managing Senioritis is to make sure your child understands your expectations about school attendance (including participation in senior “skip days”) and school work, and to keep open communication with teachers in case grades take such a nosedive that his GPA is in serious jeopardy.  It is true that colleges will withdraw their acceptance if a student’s grades drop dramatically.

Senior Week: This has become a rite of passage for new grads.  Thousands of 17 and 18 year olds swarm to the beach to celebrate their graduation.  The idea of living (unsupervised) at the beach for a week with a group of friends fills most kids with excitement and most parents with anxiety.  Kids start planning for this and booking rental houses around January. Whether you allow your child to participate is a personal choice. If you do, make sure you talk to her about the potential problems, your rules and expectations.  To help with this conversation, check out Senior Week: A Parent’s Letter.

Prom: Senior Prom is the social event that marks the end of an era.  It’s all about the dresses and tuxes and flowers and limos and the drama of who is going with whom.  There are a lot of expenses associated with prom, so avoid some misunderstandings early and talk about spending limits and who pays for what.  Many schools now organize supervised After Prom parties.  If your school offers one, get involved and make sure your child attends.  They are a lot of fun and you’ll be able to breathe easier knowing your child is somewhere safe.

Independence: Senior year is a transitional time.  Your child seems to have one foot in the door and one foot out. We may still see them as kids, but they see themselves as adults.  Don’t be surprised if there are fewer appearances at the dinner table or if your curfew gets tested.  On the one hand, this behavior can feel rebellious, but on the other hand, we do want our kids to become more independent and self-sufficient, while still respecting our house rules. Talk. Come to an understanding.  Offer a little give and take, if possible.  This is the time to give our children “roots and wings.” After all, many will be out on their own in a few months and we can help them make a smoother transition. If your child will be going off to college, check out the sage advice to parents from a college grad here.  Though it was written quite a while ago, the wisdom of the words stands the test of time!

Graduation: Smile. Bring the tissues. Beam with pride.  Graduation is a major accomplishment for them. But, let’s face it, we parents deserve some of the credit, too.

Hopefully, you will make it through your child’s senior year with most of your sanity and humor intact.  Take a few moments to pat yourself on the back…then get ready for the next challenge!

Jacki Post Ashkin

Jacki Post Ashkin, MSW, LCSW-C is Director of Community Connections at Jewish Community Services

Jewish Community Services (JCS) provides programs and services for people of all ages and backgrounds, helping them achieve their goals, enhance their wellbeing, and maximize their independence.  To learn more, visit jcsbalt.org or 410-466-9200.

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