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Got a Senior In High School? Some Wisdom from our Experts

I’ve been there. Thinking that senior year of high school was my last chance to impart all my parenting wisdom to my child. Dreaming that my daughter and I would sharing memorable “last” experiences together. No surprise—my expectations were so far off the mark.

If you’ve got a high school senior, then you may be wondering what you can do to help your teenager transition from high school senior to college freshman (or whatever else your teenager might be doing). We asked some of our favorite experts for their advice about senior year. Here’s what they told us.

Advice For Parents of High School Seniors:

1. Your senior in high school is still a work in progress—and that’s okay.

“Accept that teenagers are never fully formed when they head off to college,” recommends Dr. Lisa Damour, author of the New York Times Bestseller, Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions Into Adulthood and Under Pressure: Confronting the Epidemic of Stress and Anxiety in Girls. 

Even adolescents who are highly prepared to leave home do so with plenty of room to grow. Don’t let the inevitable, unfinished business of parenting keep you from enjoying your last year with your teen under your roof. There’s still lots of time to guide your son or daughter—even if it happens at a distance!”

2. Focus less on managing and more on enjoying your teenager.

“Spend far less time lecturing and micromanaging this coming year,” says Dr. John Duffy, a clinical psychologist and author of The Available Parent. “By now, your child knows where you stand, and needs to get some practice being ever-more independent. Instead, spend a little time each day connecting, laughing, listening to music or watching a show with them. Text them once or twice. Set the stage for an enjoyable and symbiotic, mutually-respectful relationship going forward. Let them know you are available as a guide and a consultant when they need you, but you trust them to be the project managers of their lives. When parents follow this advice, they experience far less anxiety during that first year away, and a deeper, more mature sense of connection.”

3. Trust that the past 17 years have gotten inside their heads.

“Trust that what you’ve poured into your 17-year-old child is still there. It may seem like most of it has evaporated, but that’s just part of the growth process,” sums up Amy Speidel, a parenting coach in greater Cleveland. “The guidance, the wisdom, the love you’ve provided will serve to stabilize your sometimes wobbly teen even if you don’t readily see its power. Trust. And in that trust, you will give them the greatest gift to date—hope. The hope that they’re ready for the adventure spread out before them. Hope that even when it feels crazy, someone believes in them. This is the year to let them test the waters, knowing the shore is still within reach.”

4. If you’ve been more hands on, now is the time to let go.

“This is really the time to start to let go and allow them to take over managing their own lives,” says Dr. Matthew Rouse, a clinical psychologist with the Child Mind Institute in New York City. “Keep the basic structure, like curfews, allowance, chores, etc. in place, but otherwise, try to let them figure things out on their own. If they’re college-bound, review goals and deadlines for standardized tests and applications and encourage them to utilize resources at school, but then hand over the reins to them. This year is about giving them a taste of autonomy so that they aren’t the ones who go wild when they’re on their own for the first time next year.”

5. Make sure your high school senior can ask for what they need or want.

“The best advice I can give the parent of a senior is to make sure your child can self-advocate,” says Jessica Lahey, a veteran teacher and author of The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed“Kids who can seek out guidance and tell people what they need or want, will get a great education and receive mentorship wherever they go.”

6. Prepare for tough moments.

“It’s easy for parents and teens to have high hopes for senior year,” says Dr. Deborah Gilboa, a family physician and author of Get the Behavior You Want … Without Being the Parent You Hate! ” A lot of the pressure is done, decisions get made and then it’s time to savor those last “living together” moments, right? Except it often doesn’t work out that way. Separating from a family—especially a great, loving family—is hard work. Do your best to recognize that their work is not a rejection, but an exploration, with some ripping-off-the-bandaid type abruptness. Also, make sure they can cook eggs. And noodles.”

Susan Borison

Susan Borison, mother of five, is the founder and editor of Your Teen Media. Because parenting teenagers is humbling and shouldn’t be tackled alone.