Six Secrets to Surviving Senior Year

It’s Senior Year, back-to-school time.  It’s also without a doubt, a complex and multi-layered time. At the moment we don’t know when school will start again and if it will be in class or online—or a mix of both. With everything being fluid right now, it’s tough to try to focus on the year ahead. But it’s a big year for you and your senior.

Not only is it a year of to-do’s, tasks, and applications to finish, it is also a bit of an emotional roller coaster. For them it’s their last year—they’re almost done. That makes it exciting and a little nerve-wracking to be honest. For both of you.

It’s an emotional time for us parents because we will be saying goodbye to our kids, their friends who have lived at our houses a lot of the time, and the every-day routines we’ve had for years.

However, we aren’t there yet—before we say goodbye we have to make it through standardized tests—possibly at home; writing all about our kid so their high school counselor has something to say about him; the whole college application process and even prom. It’s a lot.

Somehow in the middle of all this angst and activity, we need to find a way to reduce our stress levels—and that’s no easy feat this year.  While there are oodles of things to do (hello, did the test scores get sent with the application?), and things not to do (panic), there are a few truths you may have to accept and some behaviors you can totally boot to the curb. This is the year we have to morph a bit from parent to mentor, from being the heavy hand to a guiding hand. So here are a few secrets on what’s to come and how to make the year more harmonious for all of you.

The senior year is expensive.  Your credit card will get quite the workout this year. The opportunities to spend money are endless—senior pictures, parking pass, senior rings,  bricks, trips, prom, beach days, and the graduation gifts! Mix in the cost of all those college applications and you end up with a lot of extra expenses. Don’t forget about scholarships and don’t feel you have to do it all. They won’t even remember half of it. And try not to stress about that the money too much because, you know, next year (yikes!)

Applications suck. No matter how much we are told to enjoy the process and make it fun,  it is stressful–for all of us. It is a time of endless deadlines our kids need to meet. They are juggling finding the right school (without visiting this year, thanks COVID) participating in sports, showing leaderships, asking teachers for recommendations, and scrambling to get it all done. It’s just painful. Obviously our kids are doing most of the work,  but in all honesty, we parents will actively participate as naggers, proofreaders, project managers, and, most definitely, bankers.

Take a step back. Step away from the comparison train! Don’t worry about everyone else’s kids. What they are doing and where they are applying doesn’t matter, and the comparisons and competition is brutal enough at school. Do we really want to teach them to “keep up with the Joneses”, this young? Believe me, they will be comparing and contrasting with each other, so as a parent let it go, let it go, let it go! I really believe our kids will all end up right where they are supposed to. They will find their place and their tribe. Let it be theirs.

Stay in the present. This is a strange year because it’s all about the future. A future away and separate from you. My son and daughter spent a lot of time researching colleges, thinking about what kind of campus they would be on, and seeing countless images of dorm rooms and how to decorate them. Believe me, when they do they are also imagining themselves in those rooms and on those campuses. So try to relax about college—or seem relaxed. Instead, enjoy the now. I went to more soccer and tennis matches to see my kids play and to see all of their friends play. Next year you won’t be able to as easily. That leads me to the next thing.

Stop asking! Stop asking your child and stop asking every other senior you see where they are applying. Don’t ask where they want to go. Don’t ask if they have finished applying or how they did on the ACT or SAT (which is mostly optional right now). You’re more likely to enjoy some happy times if you stop bringing college up. While they want to go, they are anxious about where they will get in and they are a little unnerved that they will be on their own. Enjoy them for now. It will lead to less slamming doors and rolling eyes; trust me.

Senioritits is a thing. By the end of senior year, my kids were pretty much over it. So yes, senioritis is a thing. What does that look like? Like a definite lack of motivation. They don’t want to work, clean up or even talk—sometimes just getting more than a grunt out of them is a miracle. Honestly, I don’t really blame them. Let go, loosen the leash a little because next year you won’t be holding one at all. Let them make their choices—good or bad. Give them–and yourself a break because a lot of change is coming.  In many ways changes have—and rightly so—started already.

Maybe you’ll see you’re kid-less as they get closer to leaving. They may be out more (assuming the pandemic has eased). This is your teen’s last year living at home, so try to remember that their time with friends is really important. On the other hand, they may be in their room (with headphones on) more. They want privacy and time to chill—time to not stress about all the stuff they have to do. Most likely they will be talking less—at least to you.  You may be sad about that—and kind of miss them even when they are still here. But that won’t last…you will definitely have times you want to pack for them and push them out!

I remember my neighbor saying this was God’s way of making the split easier—that it’s part of their transition to living independently. Because once they are in college, family life changes. We lose that daily interaction.  We won’t really know what they are learning, who their friends are, and if they are eating right. Hell, we won’t even know their grades!

Still, the short texts, the Snapchat, and the happy face shining through your Facetime or Zoom calls make it all worth it. And don’t worry, they will be back. Many, many times.

Dana Baker

Dana Baker is a writer, a not-so-perfect mom of two and a Parent and Teen Coach. Founder of Parenting In Real Life, Dana knows first hand the challenges of raising a child with anxiety as well as ADHD and some depression. She understands the ups, the downs and the downright uglies and offers a reality check and a dose of good humor in her advice from the trenches. Dana has been featured in RealityMoms, Grown & Flown, Parent.com, Thrive Global, and ADDitude. You can find more about Dana on Parenting in Real Life.