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Keeping Seniors on Track

by Daniel on April 12th, 2011

I have a child who will be a senior in high school next year. She’s so excited about graduating that I’m concerned that she may not take her final year of school seriously. How do I keep her focused on school?
The senior year of high school and graduation are among the few rites of passage youths have left in this country (along with starting school and getting a driver’s license). It is difficult for students to maintain attention on schoolwork when senior pictures are taken at the first of the year, college and post-high school applications are being written and adults are treating them differently all year long.

In this column I usually talk about things you might do. This time I’d like to add things you don’t want to do:

Don’t rush her. The year is hectic enough without thinking about graduation in the first half of the school year. Keep your own talk about graduation and leaving school to the absolute minimum.

Encourage her not to over-schedule. She already has school, planning for her future, planning for graduation, working on colleges, all of her social events and her relationships with friends. She will be making some difficult decisions. All of these things are real work for a teen. This may be the year for her to cut back on part-time work (or not work the second semester).

Don’t assume she has grown up too much to need you. Provide as much listening time as you can. More than ever, your senior will need your time and advice. The final decisions may be hers, but you have knowledge, information, experiences and options that she has not learned about yet.

No two seniors will react to their newfound status the same. What is your daughter like? Is she a serious student with definite plans for college? If so, she may suffer from a kind of “buyer’s remorse” or cold feet — wondering if she has made a good choice. You may need to help her through this. Be reassuring about her decisions.

If she’s not sure yet whether she wants to work, travel or continue with school, help her look realistically at the options. Students her age have a tendency to be overly optimistic about their possibilities. If she wants to work, guide her to examine goals for the next three to five years. If she wants to travel, help her take a critical look at the finances required.

Does she have the money and the means (like a car) to get out and about during her senior year? This may be one of the most worrisome parent concerns. Your senior may want to stretch her freedom too far, too fast. Put some clear guidelines on curfews, driving distance and driving safety rules. She may be relieved to use your rules as a reason not to take things too far.

Are you at all worried about her friends or drinking or drugs? Seniors often experience more intense peer pressure than usual to drink, do “casual” drugs and have sex. Talk about these issues with her — don’t wait to be asked.

Keep her on track by keeping track of her and how she is coping with the senior year. Be aware of her concerns and worries. Be there for her with attention, hugs and wise choices.

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