Academics

Senioritis is going around

By Diane Schwemm

Is your senior burned out, emotional, unsure, apathetic, anxious? How about you?

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High School Parent | College Parent

I almost didn’t go to the panel discussion about “Senioritis” at the local high school because I didn’t think my son was showing symptoms. He wasn’t ditching school or breaking curfew.

But I’m glad I went, because it turns out Senioritis is a more nuanced “condition” than I’d thought. It’s really about the whole crazy range of emotions seniors may be experiencing in this limbo period between finishing college applications (or not), finding out where they got in (or didn’t), and graduation day.

The panelists — a guidance counselor, a teacher, a school psychologist, an administrator, and two veteran parents — shared perspectives and answered questions. The main take away was that Senioritis is pretty natural and pretty unavoidable. “It’s ongoing. They’re tired,” said the teacher.

“They have reason to be tired!” the counselor added. “Fall was stressful.”

“It’s nice to let them cruise a little bit,” offered the psychologist, “but they can’t just abandon ship.”

“They’ve gotta power through it,” the teacher agreed.

Here’s what you might see playing out in your own household, and how to help your senior stay healthy, grounded and positive.

What’s eating them

  • A lot of seniors feel “done” with school. They’ve worked hard for three and a half years, possibly even kicking it up a notch last semester to make their best case to the colleges they applied to. Homework, tests, the whole routine has gotten old.
  • If they were accepted Early Decision or Early Action to a college or university, they really feel done.
  • Most seniors are still waiting to hear where they got in, and this waiting constitutes a whole new category of stress. Many worry; some get panicky. “We need to wrap our arms around those kids a little more,” the counselor said.
  • When college acceptances start arriving, a social hierarchy can set in. “What sweatshirt you’re wearing matters a lot between now and graduation,” the counselor said. According to the psychologist, some seniors fall prey to “black and white thinking” and assume that if they don’t get into their top choice school their life is ruined.
  • Students who didn’t apply to college may struggle with the fact that they aren’t sure what they will do after graduation.
  • Just as students chafe against the restraints of the academic routine, they may also start testing boundaries at home.
  • A huge change looms after graduation. Friends are making decisions that may move them far away from one another and seniors are aware on some level that their relationships with their families will be changing, too.

What they need to hear and remember

  • Make sure they still go to class. Maybe say yes to a designated day or two off but, in general, support continued effort. Being able to see things through to the end will be even more important in college.
  • Some “droop” is allowed (“it’s a losing battle to expect one hundred percent”) but no Ds and Fs! If they are in AP/IB classes and can keep grades up and do well on exams, a big payoff looms — those college credits can be worth a lot.
  • Encourage them to talk to teachers and counselors if they are really struggling. Counselors want to support students who are overloaded and can take a class away if necessary as long as students don’t drop below the minimum required by the school and for graduation.
  • Help them take care of sleep and exercise. If they need to blow off steam, or just change things up, steer them toward a new activity that will be centering.
  • We can help most by keeping perspective ourselves. Start by remembering we don’t have to talk about college and “the future” all the time. As curious as we might be, resist the questions: “Where is so-and-so going? Did your friend get into…?”
  • Instead of joining their anxiety, question their assumptions (when they think rejection by College X means the end of their dreams).
  • Reassure them that it’s okay not to know what they are going to do and who they are going to become. Most paths into adulthood are not direct, and planning doesn’t guarantee safety or success. Don’t you have a friend — now a lawyer, or an architect — who worked as a ski lift operator or backpacked for a year? Be open to the student who is seriously considering a gap year.
  • Make sure spring break gives them a real breather, even if they stay home. Encourage them to find ways to “get out of the bubble.”
  • As the family dynamic begins to change, look for new ways to engage them. Get creative about how you spend time together (especially if they are spending less time at home).
  • Fun milestone activities like prom can help get them through.
  • Give their volatility lots of room and try not to overreact. “You want to be a person they want to come back to,” one parent said.

The discussion ended with encouraging stories about former students who’d experienced severe cases of Senioritis but went on to be extremely motivated and happy in college. The one “cure” for Senioritis everyone could agree on? “Unconditional love.” Keep offering it up. Our students will make it through this final semester, and so will we.

Special thanks to the wonderful staff of Boulder High School as well as the BHS Parent Advisory Council which sponsors the “Reality Check” panel discussions.

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