What Social Media Isn’t Telling Us About Our High School Students

My son’s had senioritis since middle school. He is a mere two weeks away from (hopefully) graduating high school. He has missed more days than he has attended, and if he doesn’t pass his English class, he will not receive his diploma.

Presently he doesn’t want to attend college, preferring a gap year. My hunch is that he will never return to a traditional classroom setting. He’s failed more classes than he’s passed since his junior year. Still, his advisor intends to get him across that stage, allowing work experience to fulfill any missing elective credits.

Parents never post the negative on social media. (Twenty20 @olala)

My son’s plans for next year are uncertain

His plans? He doesn’t know. For now, he has decided to continue working at the restaurant where he’s been employed for the past year to save money and figure out what’s next. 

He wants to live at home and save money to get a place of his own eventually. His timeline has been pushed back due to rising rent costs, finding roommates, and the need to have enough income to justify his DoorDash habit.

He’s one of the messiest teens I’ve had the privilege of knowing. Stacked dirty plates, McDonald’s bags, and half-full energy drink cans stand as art pieces given their creative placement around his bedroom. His laundry basket resembles the leaning tower of Pisa, overflowing with dirty hoodies and Kendrick Lamar t-shirts; a box of condoms and a pack of Marlboros sit in his top drawer.

I can’t motivate my son to get to school on time

I can’t get him up for school on time. I’ve given up because I’ve got my own full-time job that doesn’t include waking my son up in its job description. Plus, at 18 it’s his responsibility. At times, he will go to class for an hour, only to arrive back home and sleep until it’s time to go to work. On the days he chooses to skip, he pays us $100 in rent. One would think that would be motivation to attend but it’s turned into a lucrative side hustle for me.

In addition to his ambivalence towards school, he’s also picked up bad habits such as drinking, vaping, and intense relationships. They are habits that concern us, given the addictive qualities and the effects on his long-term health. We hope it’s just a phase.

Parents never post the negatives on social media

As parents of older teens, we can’t post this on social media. Our kids deserve some privacy. So, what do we do instead? We post all the positives, maybe even embellish those positives to prove we have raised high achievers and are good parents. Those posts alienate the ones that must threaten their kids with phone confiscation to motivate them or, worse, try to prevent them from getting a criminal record. 

It was easier when they were babies. We could share tantrums, pooping and feeding issues, and the fact that they hated to nap. These days to share our kid’s penchant for vaping, that time they took ecstasy freshman year or cut school to have sex would be incredibly violating of a teen’s anonymity. 

I fall into the trap of comparison when I see all the posts from parents writing about the success of their graduating seniors. Our children grew up together, attended the same school, and spent summer afternoons in our play groups at the park.

4.0 for this kiddo! #proudparent

4-year scholarship #collegebound

Valedictorian #futureattorney

Full sports ride #humblebrag

My screen stares back at me with the toothy grins of what appear to be assured, well-rounded teens ready to conquer the world for the greater good, and I wonder what they’re struggling with. It’s been a tough couple of years for our kids.

Parents whose teens have issues stay silent

Meanwhile other parents stay silent, brooding over why their kid isn’t as good as someone else’s. Did we fail as parents? Did we not set a good enough example? Why isn’t our child achieving as much as so and so’s?

There is no way I’m alone in this struggle, so I want to affirm those who find themselves in similar waters. If there were a support group for parents of teens, it would be a packed house at every meeting.

Granted, we need to be proud of our seniors. They’ve made it through COVID, online schooling, lack of interaction and isolation. Many physically experienced COVID, setting them back on weeks of assignments. Some sat through lockdowns in their school, witnessed violence, racism and shootings in their school halls. Many wonder if they go to school are they going to come home?

What they’ve endured in their lifetime thus far is the trauma that will be written about in the future.

Sharing teens’ successes needs to be tempered with reality

It’s in our nature to share successes and there’s nothing wrong with that but it needs to be tempered with reality. Parents are struggling and so are their kids. My son may not have the same Instagram-worthy achievements as some who are portrayed on screens but here’s what he does have.

He’s incredibly compassionate. He loves his family and his friends. He steps in at a moment’s notice to help any of them in need. He has a fantastic work ethic, moving up the ladder in his job to where he’s become the highest-paid employee. He’s gentle and a born leader among his work peers. He’s taking on a second job to have full-time hours when school ends.

Our family supports him, loves him, and is proud of him.

I don’t know what lies in store for him, I pray his decisions reflect the true nature of my son, the qualities that rest deep inside of him. Just as much as we need high achievers, we also need the ones who are still figuring things out.

It’s OK not to have a plan; it opens the door for greater possibilities and a chance to explore who they are, what they’re passionate about, and what excites them. It’s a rare opportunity. Hopefully, bad habits will morph into good ones. Maybe the best they can do is get up each morning, or in my son’s case, get up at some point in the day. 

The only graduation posts I’ll be making are, “Our son made it.” That alone is worth celebrating.

More Great Reading:

10 Things to Say to Your Teen When You Don’t Understand Their Struggle

About Jess Land

Jess Land lives with her husband, two kids and 4 rescue dogs in Portland, Oregon. She has written for publications such as Scary Mommy, Blunt Moms, The Huffington Post, and Rage Against the Minivan. Her topics include parenting teens, divorce, co-parenting and college.

Read more posts by Jess

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