Somehow the summer came and went during a nap you don’t remember taking and you awake to find that it is September. To-do lists have been misplaced, senior year is already a whirlwind and college applications need to be submitted in the next 4 months. You feel overwhelmed, anxious and worried and you’re not even the one going to college!
However, it is 1pm on Saturday and HE is still asleep. How can he sleep when there is so much to do? Shouldn’t he have a plan for the day? Some kind of plan of what he has to do next? A plan for college tours, a list of pros and cons of the schools already visited…or how about that room! How can anyone think, never mind sleep…in a room that is covered in clothing like that?
Unfortunately it doesn’t get any better when he wakes up. He grumbles through a giant bowl of cereal, showers, and then says he’s going out. When I try my best to run through all of the things on the ever-growing list, he barely looks up, mumbles that he will do it later…and leaves as he spends the rest of the day pretending that his phone isn’t attached to the palm of his hand, and he doesn’t see my texts.
I spend the rest of the day mumbling (to myself) “I don’t care…if you don’t get everything done in time I guess you won’t go to college.” As if caring is actually optional.
I am sure it does, since it is very common. As a matter of fact, it is not only common, but also necessary for both of you.
Senior year is the most important one on record. While it is also frustrating and worrisome, with all of its’ emotional rollercoasters, everything both of you experience (in many cases, the whole family) is just what needs to occur for a successful year in college. However there are many things you can do to survive feeling ignored, unwanted and out of control.
Your role as the parent.
This will be the year that you learn to lean in and detach from the outcome. Literally lean into whatever your son/daughter is presenting. I don’t mean to suggest you should allow them to be disrespectful, ignoring curfews or laws, but simply allow them to experience life as a senior, however it unfolds. It is about lowering your shoulders and understanding that while they are not quite ready to stand on their own, this is the year for them to figure it out.
The thought of accepting everything (especially at 3pm when they are still sleeping!) is challenging, while detaching from the outcome may feel remotely like abandonment. But it is simply a way to look at the same situation with a new lens. It is a simple way to care deeply about a situation or another person from an objective point of view, which creates the ability to care, but not be controlled by or invested in how the person responds.
Then you will be able to truly impact your emerging adult in a meaningful way.
Understand what they are experiencing:
1 – Worry about getting into a good college.
2 – Concerns about letting you down.
3 – Wanting to be independent.
4 – Wanting the freedom, while still needing help.
5 – Fear of leaving friends and family behind.
6 – Fear of the unknown.
The more you talk at your teen, the more they will ignore you. Instead, create a balance of simple strategies and thought-provoking questions that will give them the help they need to take initiative.
Helping without hindering:
The idea is to guide his/her thinking with strong questions that foster productivity and organization. A great way to start is to compartmentalize the college search process by keeping it separate from all other senior year tasks.
Planning: The best planning is not done quietly in your head! Start by purchasing a notebook (or even a planner) that is just for senior year tasks. A successful college freshman year will be one that is organized. This simple idea of a notebook just for the college search process is a great way to model organization. Use it for every task that needs to be accomplished and check it weekly.
Discuss: Share the idea about the notebook with your senior. Be honest about how you’re feeling about the process and give them the space to share how are feeling about it.
What you might say: I want you to know that I feel pretty overwhelmed with this search process too and am hoping if we can organize everything that needs to be done, it will feel less overwhelming. I even bought a notebook for you that would help us stay on task. What do you think?
Create a List: Now it is time to get the running mental list onto paper! This step will also model an important process they will need once in college: Organizing tasks. The American College Health Association-National College Health Assessment revealed that 84% of college freshman feel overwhelmed by all they have to do, so let’s start helping them now by setting reasonable and attainable goals. Keep it simple.
What you might say: Can you make a list of all the things that need to be done in the next 6 months? Include everything you can think of and let me know if you need any help.
Chunking: One way to avoid overload is to group the list into important headers, which will create several smaller lists and feel less overwhelming.
What you might say: Wow, that is quite a list! It might seem more manageable if we could think of 3 or 4 categories and then put the tasks into the appropriate section in the notebook. Can you think of some categories?
Deadlines: Timelines dramatically reduce stress. Knowing what to do is helpful, but knowing when to do it alleviates the worry surrounding it.
What you might say: If we knew when each of these things needed to be done, we could work backwards and figure out when to start. Could you put a due date next to each item you listed?
By asking them to do only one thing at a time, they will feel more confident about completing the task and less likely to ignore it. In addition, they will sense your desire to help as well as your confidence in them to do it alone. In addition, your detachment from the outcome will be great practice for both of to remember that there is more than one way for problems to be solved, and that our way, is not always the best way. This detachment will foster their independence and yours too!
There is a delicate balance senior year between holding on and letting go. However, if you are truly open to everything and attached to nothing, you will be present and happy as you enjoy the last high school year in a way that leaves you both feeling successful.