End of senior year

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  May 13, 2010 06:00 AM

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Dear Barbara,

The end of the senior year.....   What advice can you offer? My daughter is alternately sad and euphoric, needy and bratty. There seems to be alcohol everywhere. The prom? That's the least of the problems. Suddenly she's hanging out with people we've never heard of in homes where we suspect alcohol is being served openly. Last night (not a weekend), we came home from an event to find four teenagers in our house -- two couples who have been couples for a long time. (We didn't do this to 'trap' them, our evening just ended early. ) There were a few beer cans in the trash but, honestly, it wasn't the drinking that they were there for.

Our daughter has never violated curfews or violated our trust, until now. She has always been responsible and reliable. We have not grounded her. We said we were disappointed in her behavior and we wanted time to think about it.

Her response to all of this was, "In six months, you won't have any idea what I'll be doing."

From: JM, Framingham

Dear JM,

I'd say your daughter is right on target: Her behavior is very typical for a graduating senior. The emotions of high school seniors are as unpredictable as a pinball. And not just to you. The kids themselves feel like an emotional pinball; they go up and down from moment to moment without a clue as to what emotion will hit them next.

They want to move on, they are ready to move on, but moving on  is scary and full of unknowns. They are sad to be parting from childhood friends but they're excited to meet new friends but what if the new friends aren't as good as the old friends and what if the old friends forget them.....

You get the point.

What can you do? Be there, literally, physically.  As the year winds down, wind your own schedule down so that you are available 24/7 to talk or walk or cry with your daughter. Hang on -- this is not just about girls. Boys experience the same roller coaster although maybe not quite as obviously.

You can also:

Acknowledge the mish-mash of feelings. Show sympathy and empathy. When she picks a fight for no reason, pretend that she told you, "I'm scared to leave! Will you miss me?" Then answer her unspoken question: "This is a hard time for both of us! Even when we fight for stupid reasons, it reminds me how much I'll miss you!"


Probably the hardest part is when she spits in your face that in four months she can do whatever she wants. Yep, that's absolutely true. So do you loosen the reins entirely now? No. She ignores curfews? Forgets to call? Shows signs of drinking or smoking? Impose the same limits and consequences you have all along.

 She still needs limits and curfews and rules. Loosen up for a special occasion but do not throw the reins in the air for a free for all. She doesn't want that any more than you do, no matter what she says. Your limits and curfews and rules are how she knows you care. They are how you have kept her safe, and she knows it. I

The best you can do is acknowledge reality in its fullest: ``It's true, you'll be on your own, and I hope and trust you'll use good judgment. In the meantime, I don't have to provide opportunity for behaviors I consider dangerous.''

PS. Read the article I linked to above. People really said it helped when it was published. More to the point: I wrote it when my own son was a high school senior. It helped me!

I answer a question from a reader every weekday. If you want help with some aspect of child-rearing, just write to me here.


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3 comments so far...
  1. I'm 43 now but I can easily transport myself back to the end of senior year when all the excitement and angst was swirling in me. I was not a drinker so my parents were lucky in that regard. I think you should keep the lines of communication as open as possible and keep the questions coming -who are you with, where are you going, what are you doing - and talk talk talk about alcohol and the need for good judgement. Try to communicate with other senior parents as well. Good luck!

    Posted by Cordelia May 13, 10 10:22 AM
  1. Time to talk to your daughter as an adult. Part of her is looking ahead to adulthood. The rest is normal teenage nerves.

    Sit down and agree to a set of house rules that she will agree to in YOUR house. State the activities that are NOT to be engaged in by random strangers--you can freely say that you are not running a hotel that rents rooms by the hour. Just say it calmly.

    At the same time you can ask her for her "house" rules for when she goes off to college--like, when to call her, when to not drop in unannounced, etc. Show her by your example that adults are expected to respect property rights.

    Posted by Irene May 13, 10 10:57 AM
  1. The summer between my daughter's graduation and moving her into a dorm room was absolutely the most challenging 3-4 months of my parenting career. She went from a pretty agreeable, easy-going kid to a nasty, rude, entitled brat. I thought I'd kill her. (well, okay, I didn't, but you know what I mean!)

    It's that push-pull thing kids do in varying stages their entire lives. I love you! I hate you! I can't wait to move out! I'm scared to go! I won't miss you at all! Tell me you'll miss me!

    I told my daughter I was willing to give her more freedom as long as she understood that that freedom still fell within my rules and parameters of behavior. An extra hour on curfew did not mean she could go to a known party house and drink beer. Allowing her friends to have bonfires and use our pool until midnight did not mean they could be disrespectful of our neighbors or her younger siblings by being too rowdy. There were consequences if she didn't live by our rules, and I have to say, she was good about accepting both.

    She's home from her first year of college now, and wow, what a difference a year makes. She told me that living away from home gave her three things: laundry skills, a new level of maturity, and an awareness that maybe, just maybe, parents have a clue after all.

    Posted by Kate May 14, 10 05:52 PM
 
3 comments so far...
  1. I'm 43 now but I can easily transport myself back to the end of senior year when all the excitement and angst was swirling in me. I was not a drinker so my parents were lucky in that regard. I think you should keep the lines of communication as open as possible and keep the questions coming -who are you with, where are you going, what are you doing - and talk talk talk about alcohol and the need for good judgement. Try to communicate with other senior parents as well. Good luck!

    Posted by Cordelia May 13, 10 10:22 AM
  1. Time to talk to your daughter as an adult. Part of her is looking ahead to adulthood. The rest is normal teenage nerves.

    Sit down and agree to a set of house rules that she will agree to in YOUR house. State the activities that are NOT to be engaged in by random strangers--you can freely say that you are not running a hotel that rents rooms by the hour. Just say it calmly.

    At the same time you can ask her for her "house" rules for when she goes off to college--like, when to call her, when to not drop in unannounced, etc. Show her by your example that adults are expected to respect property rights.

    Posted by Irene May 13, 10 10:57 AM
  1. The summer between my daughter's graduation and moving her into a dorm room was absolutely the most challenging 3-4 months of my parenting career. She went from a pretty agreeable, easy-going kid to a nasty, rude, entitled brat. I thought I'd kill her. (well, okay, I didn't, but you know what I mean!)

    It's that push-pull thing kids do in varying stages their entire lives. I love you! I hate you! I can't wait to move out! I'm scared to go! I won't miss you at all! Tell me you'll miss me!

    I told my daughter I was willing to give her more freedom as long as she understood that that freedom still fell within my rules and parameters of behavior. An extra hour on curfew did not mean she could go to a known party house and drink beer. Allowing her friends to have bonfires and use our pool until midnight did not mean they could be disrespectful of our neighbors or her younger siblings by being too rowdy. There were consequences if she didn't live by our rules, and I have to say, she was good about accepting both.

    She's home from her first year of college now, and wow, what a difference a year makes. She told me that living away from home gave her three things: laundry skills, a new level of maturity, and an awareness that maybe, just maybe, parents have a clue after all.

    Posted by Kate May 14, 10 05:52 PM
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About the author

Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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