You made it through elementary school, when your child learned to read. Then middle school, when he decided he hated reading. Then came high school, when you informed him that he absolutely must read if he wanted to get into college and that, by the way, car keys would be held hostage pending good grades.
And now, it’s senior year.
Whether they love high school or hate it, kids tend to view senior year as a time that can’t come soon enough. Either it’s the last step before breaking free of high school or it’s the most fun year ever, when commencement celebrations start on the first day back.
For parents, senior year may be a time of melancholy and anxiety, says Jane Bluestein, coauthor of High School’s Not Forever, a book aimed at teens who find high school a stressful social environment.
“You wonder, ‘Did I do enough to prepare my child?’ ” Bluestein says. “Senior year is one of those emancipation years. Kids are pulling away. It’s hard for parents.”
The big decision looms large: college. And in the short term, parents may worry that their child will get burned out on academics and party too hard.
Bluestein recommends a balanced approach. You don’t want to let your child slack off so much it jeopardizes her future. “But kids don’t have to finish their first year of college during their senior year, either,” says Bluestein, referring to the practice of loading up on Advanced Placement courses or even college courses to get a jump-start on credits.
Parents need to help keep kids on track without putting too much pressure on them. If you find yourself pushing your child to excel in every aspect of life, Bluestein advises asking yourself “Why is this important to me? Is it my own adequacy issue?”
To find that middle ground, parents and students need to know exactly what the expectations are for senior year. Years ago, 12th grade was about two milestones: sending out college applications and receiving acceptance letters. Once your applications were mailed off, you did the bare minimum in your classes to pass. After you got your acceptance letter, you slacked off even more and assumed your teachers would turn a blind eye.
That was the past. These days, much of the college admissions process happens online. And there’s also this thing called schoolwork, which still must get done even once you’ve been accepted to your first-choice school. “I want to paint a sign over my door that says ‘Senioritis is a fatal disease,’ ” says Eric Katz, a guidance counselor at Newburgh Free Academy in New York, and Bluestein’s coauthor.
Today’s teachers are far more likely to issue grades that reflect the senior’s work rather than wave them through just because they’re graduating. Yes, colleges can rescind acceptance letters. Even more important, your child could slack off so much that he may not have enough credits to graduate. Poor grades can also cost a student his scholarships and affect college placement. Counselors note that students who coast through senior year have a hard time getting back into the academic groove once they do get to college.
To make sure your child avoids senioritis, “stay on top of it,” Katz advises. “It’s important for parents to stay involved....Those last six months, it’s more important than ever to be aware of what your senior is doing.”
Parents should closely monitor report cards and jump in fast if grades start to slip. “Trust but verify” is the motto for Katz, who recently sent twin sons off to college.
Once parents have spelled out expectations for academic work, they must also make sure college applications are filed on time. Some teens are self-directed, while others won’t work on their admissions essays even when desperate parents offer to pay them by the word. “You have to know your kid and know why they’re not doing their applications,” Katz says. “Is it something the kid wants, or is he just [applying to certain schools] to please his parents?”
Many seniors will expect to have more freedom socially. For parents, the goal is to give teens age-appropriate choices and to let them own the consequences of poor decisions. “It’s important for parents to stay involved even though their child is 17 or 18,” Katz says. “Senior year offers multiple roller coasters. You want to make sure the roller coasters are headed in the same direction and not headed for a collision.”