Saying goodbye is never easy and graduating high school is no exception.
Many of our teens have spent the last thirteen years of their lives with the same friends, hanging out in the same places, complaining about the same old boring life. Yet, it is this boring life that they will miss dearly when they leave. There is something so comforting about routine, and leaving high school, saying goodbye to friends, family and familiar places can affect your teen more than you realize.
Here are ten suggestions on how to make the transition from high school a little less rocky:
Don’t wait until the last minute to say goodbye.
If your teen does not bring up her impending farewells, there is no harm in asking how she is feeling about leaving. If she resists, try again in a few days. Waiting till the very end can be hard, as there are other additional stresses like moving logistics, orientation, class selection, new roommate adjustments, to name a few. Avoiding feelings can feel easier in the short run, but long term, this can add stress to an already emotional process.
Start small when encouraging your teens to talk about their feelings.
Sadness and fear, as well as anger and disappointment are all difficult feelings, but can dissipate when communicated to a parent or close friend. Keeping it all bottled up can very quickly lead to overwhelm. Leave little bread crumbs of questions of how your teen may be feeling. A drop here, a sprinkle here. Start small – asking about their feelings about something less emotional, less weighted. Work up to how they are feeling about saying goodbye.
Don’t assume all feelings are negative.
Some teens may not have had the best high school experience or they are simply more than ready to move on. Ask your teen how they are feeling, and do not assume it is all bad. There are many exciting things in their future, and encouraging them to look forward, can help with the jitters of change, and you may discover that they are perfectly fine with leaving.
Share your own goodbye experiences.
It helps to remember that we are not alone in our feelings. Share your own experiences of saying goodbye – whether it was high school, college or a more recent experience. Share how you felt before, during and after. Even something simple as saying, “I remember how hard it was to say goodbye to my high school friends,” or “I remember how nervous I was to go off to college, to live on my own for the first time, and how it all worked out in the end.”
Help your teen make the most of the time she has left with friends.
If your teen tends to worry, she may be not enjoying the time she has left. We cannot avoid the sadness of saying goodbye. Feelings are meant to be felt, but it is important not to get stuck in any one feeling. Help your teen to feel but remind her to move on, and enjoy the time she has left.
Don’t take it personally when your teen does not want to spend any time at home.
Most teens are making the most of their time that is left before college. This means they may be spending every waking minute with their friends, boyfriend or girlfriend. They may be going to parties, the movies, hikes, and concerts. It is summer and it is their last summer with their high school friends before they all go their separate ways. Do not take it personally if you teen does not have time for you. They will still miss you when they leave and you will be the first one they call or text when they feel lonely, sad or stressed.
Plan a few special outings.
Plan something special before they go, if your teen is willing to find the time. Do an overnight or spend a few extra nights some place just the two or three of you. Tagging on a few days to college orientation may be the perfect time, so as not to feel like you are taking away too much time from their friends. If going away is not possible, plan a nice dinner at your teen’s favorite restaurant, a movie or something fun. They will take the memory with them when they go.
Be honest with how you are feeling.
It is as hard on parents when teens go off to college. Model for them how you are feeling, and talk about your feelings. Sometimes teens just need a little permission to let their feelings out. Your talking about your own sadness, how you are going to miss them, just may be the spark they need to open up. Just be sure to let them know how excited you are for them as well, and that missing each other is a normal part of growing up and becoming independent. It is not wrong to feel sad, and they are not wrong for leaving. We can be sad and excited all at the same time.
Remind them how connected our world is today.
If your teen is having a particularly hard time remind them of all the ways we are connected. Texting, FaceTime, email, phone calls are all tools we use to stay in touch. We had a pay phone in the hallway, and if we happened to be there when our parents called, we spoke to them. It is a different time, and our teens are used to being more connected, as are we. A reminder of this can help your teen through some fears or sadness they may be experiencing.
When my daughter went off to college, two years ago, she was texting and FaceTiming me all the time. I had to laugh as it felt no different than when she was living upstairs in her room. This added connection at the beginning helped her to ease into the transition of living away from home. Over time, the need lessened.
Send them off with a memory.
Saying goodbye, no matter how you frame it, can hurt. Encourage your teen to fill that frame with pictures from high school, family, pets and life at home. These photos can be just the reminder they need during those first weeks away from home. Other great mementos can include t-shirt quilts, scrap books, memory boxes, a necklace or matching bracelets.
While goodbyes can be difficult and heart wrenching, farewells are a necessary part of life. We can welcome our feelings of sadness, while also being excited for what is to come. Remember, it is the tearful goodbyes that remind us how lucky we are to share our life with those we love.