10 Ways to Support Your High School Senior When You’re Feeling Uncertain

My partner and I were both silent as our son slammed the last of his things into his backpack and begrudgingly headed out to his car. You see, he’d planned to skip class that day, only to discover there was a quiz scheduled. It forced him to realign his vision of a day playing video games and relaxing, and that realignment induced a surliness I hadn’t seen in a couple of years. The surliness swirled in my head as I sipped my coffee and watched his car disappear.

What if he’s not ready for the next step?
What if we haven’t prepared him enough?
How will he make these decisions when we aren’t watching?

Often, our teens’ reactive natures can make us question their maturity, self-control, and readiness to transition to the next step. However, we’re quick to forget that our teens show us their worst sides because they know we are safe havens where they can be exactly who they are and behave according to how they’re feeling. We’re all prone to allowing our teen’s behavior to root inside our brains and feed an uncertainty that creates fear, worry, and doubt.

But here’s something to consider: could it be that what appears to be a reason to worry is actually an area where our work has yet to be done? Instead of responding in fear, let’s ask ourselves how we can best support our senior students, even when we are struggling to be confident in our parenting abilities.

Pause for a minute and breathe—we can use the same skills we’ve used since they were toddlers. Though it may look a little different now, we can figuratively walk behind them in case they fall while still conveying unconditional belief in their abilities. Here are 10 ways we can all help our high school seniors while simultaneously managing our uncertainties.

  1. I’m serious about taking a pause-and-breathe moment. Self-care is going to be extremely important as you prepare to hold on tightly and let go lightly. Be mindful of what thoughts and emotions are building up in you so that you don’t project those feelings onto your child.
  2. Question your thoughts. We know that our brains tend to lean toward the negative and can’t always be trusted, so learn to scrutinize those negative thoughts. Do not allow them in until they have passed the truth test. Ask yourself: “Can I be certain this is true?”
  3. Lean on the foundation you have already laid. Take a mental step back and look at the whole landscape of your parenting journey. Make it your job to find the ways in which your senior is ready—and remember: in every story, there is wonder. Turn that wonder into curiosity about your student: “I wonder how they will navigate this problem using the skills they already possess?” or “I wonder how their experiences have prepared them for this hurdle?”
  4. Build your mindfulness skills. Mindfulness is all about present-moment awareness, avoiding our brain’s propensity to revisit the past or attempt to predict the future. When you notice you are in future-based thinking, gently bring yourself back to the current moment.
  5. Remind yourself that you are the wall your senior kicks off from. Of course, you will feel the pain of that occasionally, but this doesn’t mean that they aren’t ready. The flailing is important because it helps them define who they are, and your ability to stay steady as they kick off helps them feel stable and secure.
  6. Begin to relinquish control over the administrative responsibilities your senior might normally avoid or neglect (or be unfamiliar with): scheduling and keeping appointments, meeting deadlines, filling out forms, paying bills, changing the oil in the car, etc. Maintaining a life structure is vital, so you’ll want to move them toward ownership of those tasks. Don’t continue to do for them what they can do for themselves. This responsibility instills confidence in them, and it creates an opportunity for you to witness their capability.
  7. Reexamine your definition of failure or mistakes. It’s important to remember that failure often creates opportunity—mistakes promote growth and help teach our kids that they can overcome just about anything.
  8. Keep in mind that a life shift of this magnitude and importance cannot occur without significant anxiety. Allowing them to take ownership of their future is scary, but don’t let their anxiety or yours convince you they aren’t ready. Notice your fear when it shows up and promptly ask it to take a seat in the corner, reminding it that your senior is right where they are supposed to be.
  9. This last step is the biggest: communicating unconditional belief in your senior, even when you don’t feel it. Your senior will need to borrow your hope and your belief in them for the times when they aren’t feeling so sure. Just as one looks to the flight attendant on a plane rocking with turbulence to know it’s okay, your teen will look to you when their life is looking chaotic.

The transition from childhood to adulthood is a big one, so it’s unreasonable to expect it will be easy. But just as we have been doing since they could walk, we do what we can to prepare them—then we pause and watch them fly.


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