Senioritis is a word that frequently comes up as teens begin their transition out of high school to college. While the gradual emergence of sloppy dressing and skipped homework is often laughed off by teachers or parents, the consequences of a poor senior year can affect students beyond high school. Inconsistent attendance and homework habits can stretch into college, and poor performance the final semester of senior year sometimes leads to colleges rescinding their offers.
As graduation approaches, parents of teenagers are faced with a new dilemma: They must guide their children through to the next stage of life while also ensuring that teens begin to take responsibility for their mistakes and daily tasks. Most freshmen, sophomores, and juniors don’t anticipate getting senioritis, but anyone can be vulnerable. How do you make sure your teen is engaged in their senior year without overstepping? Let’s take a look at a few simple guiding rules for facilitating a smooth transition out of high school.
4 Ways to Help Teens Avoid Senioritis
1. Don’t over-function.
When a teen loses steam, it can become all too easy to pick up the slack for them. If you’re taking over chores, doing homework for them, or making excuses to teachers, then consider how this can hurt them in the long run. When a parent is quick to over-function for their teen, that dynamic can become hard to unlock when college rolls around. Though it might be stressful to let a teen face consequences or do work in their own time, encouraging a sense of mastery over their final year of high school can help them gain momentum and energy for college.
2. Connect values with tasks.
Teens build self-esteem when they are able to connect daily or weekly tasks with their interests and values. Encourage your child to choose courses senior year that explore their career interests and help them test out college majors. Remind them that it’s never too late to join a club or learn a new skill. If they’re moving away for college, ask them how they’d like to have an impact on their community before they go. The College Board says that positive activities can help teens enjoy their senior year without getting into trouble. You might be surprised how a new interest can improve your child’s overall mood and attention.
3. Encourage their expertise.
Chances are your teen has learned quite a bit about a subject or skill in the last four years. Encouraging them to tutor, mentor, or share this knowledge with others can help them feel empowered and ready for adulthood. This can also keep them engaged with school subjects they might want to continue exploring in college. When you acknowledge the progress your child has made, they often feel encouraged to build on these skills or expand their knowledge in a subject area.
4. Recruit others as resources.
Resilient people share similar qualities, including the ability to recruit others to help them solve problems. If you’re the only one talking to your teen about college, career interests, and schoolwork, then chances are they’ll begin to tune you out. Ask your teen to make a list of the people they find interesting who could help them answering questions they have about the future. An older friend in college, a friend’s parent, or another community member are all potential resources to help with decision-making, and their advice about staying on task senior year might make the biggest difference. Your child will have to recruit others for help in adulthood, so why not start the habit right now?
Above all, it’s important not to panic if your child starts to get sluggish during their senior year. You are the best resource for your child when you are the calmest and most thoughtful person in the room. Try to be realistic about senioritis, as aspects of any journey are bound to become dull after four years, including high school. Rather than threatening your child or using fear tactics, consider how you can problem-solve with them. Help them to think about how they can construct an interesting and useful senior year that will carry them forward in life. Encourage them to pass their expertise on to others. Ask them who they can recruit to be resources to them during this time of transition. You might be surprised what answers and ideas your teen can generate to build a memorable and fruitful senior year.
Lisa Suzuki is the associate professor of applied psychology at NYU Steinhardt and the program director for the school’s online master’s in school counseling and online master’s in mental health counseling programs.