Leisure Features

Parent Trap: Senioritis

Are you living with a high school senior who is crabby, moody, engaging you in power struggles, and procrastinating with school work and college applications? Are you fluctuating between already missing them and wanting them out of the house? You’re not alone. Let me explain why your senior is out of sorts.

Your 18-year-old is going through a critical touch point, a phenomenon described by the late Dr. T. Berry Brazelton. Touch points are times in our lives when we are going through a big leap in development; think 2-year-olds, 6-year-olds, seventh-graders, high school and college seniors, someone approaching a wedding or birth of a first child, etc. Just before and during the transition, people tend to be moody, angry and out of sync. High school seniors have a foot in two worlds: anticipating the start of college while also feeling unsure about leaving the familiarity of home. They struggle with the ambivalence of wanting to grow up and not. Teens wonder if they are ready to start over with new friends and a new support network, especially while handling the academic challenges of college.

All of the emotions they feel—confusion, excitement, fear, sadness, anticipation, anxiety—pull them out of the present moment, making it harder to see the immediate steps that need to be taken. Thus, procrastination and outbursts ensue. The only emotion they tend to express is anger.

At the same time, parents are facing their own touch point. They undergo a grieving process as they work to let go of their burgeoning adolescents. And it’s easy for parents to get overwhelmed and worry whether they have prepared their children for what’s to come.

What causes a lot of the struggles between parent and child is that no one allows themselves to express their emotions in healthy ways, so feelings can build up and leak out as anger. As the expression goes, what is unexpressed becomes unmanageable. So, what’s the solution for living with your high school senior?

First, understand, reframe and normalize the touch point process. Parents and teens must express themselves properly. Staying peaceful and present can have a calming effect on even the moodiest 18-year-old. Have open, honest discussions about feelings. Seniors need to express what feels supportive and what doesn’t. And parents, try not to add any pressure or expectations; it’s time your teen starts making decisions for himself.

I teach teens to focus on the journey and enjoy the present. Parents should start ‘letting go’ when kids are young, slowly giving them more input, control and responsibility. This makes the big sendoff in August a lot less daunting. Enjoy every moment and memory of this year because you will never get this time back.

Tim Jordan, M.D., is a behavioral pediatrician who specializes in counseling girls ages 6 through college. He recently launched an online video parenting course, Taking Flight: Everyday Parenting Wisdom to Help Girls Soar. For more information, visit drtimjordan.com.