Finishing Strong: Advice for Parents of High School Seniors

We try to finish strong in almost every area of life. Runners sprint toward the finish line. Sports’ teams make a final push to make the playoffs. Candidates deliver their best speeches right before Election Day. Retirees talk about moving from success to significance. And then there is high school. Many students coast through their final year. Limping toward the finish line has become the norm. There’s even a word for it: “Senioritis.” With 11 years of schooling behind them, some students develop an allergic reaction to institutions of education.

It might be easy for parents to adapt a similar posture and coast through the final year of parenting a high-schooler. Raising teens is hard work. While most students are ready for high school to be over, many parents might be just as ready for their kids to move on. It’s understandable. But that attitude could cause parents to miss a remarkable opportunity to engage their teens in more meaningful conversations. And teens need it.

According to William Damon of Stanford University, only 20 percent of teens “express a clear vision of where they want to go, what they want to accomplish and why.” Many students don’t seem to know why or if they want to go to college, what they want to study or what kind of career they want to pursue. I recently heard one student put it like this: “Going to college would be a waste of my time and my parent’s money. I have no idea what I want to do after high school.”

It’s easy to be frustrated by a young person’s apathy and lack of vision for the future, but have we done enough to equip teens with a better vision for how to make the most of their senior year? In his eye-opening book, The First Year Out: Understanding American Teens after High School, sociologist Timothy Clydesdale suggests: “More can be done to encourage those teens who do want to examine the purpose or direction of their lives by engaging them at deeper levels before the first year out of high school.” As your teens get ready to transition to their senior year, here is a “3-D vision” to keep in front of them…

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