Inside: Junior year can be overwhelming for students and parents alike. Here are six simple ways to support your teen during this challenging year.
I recently attended a college preparation meeting for my son, who is a junior in high school.
I was nervous about finding out what we should have been doing because, up to this point, we haven’t done anything.
The leader of the meeting flooded us with information as my husband and I sat there in amazement and shock trying to process everything.
It’s a lot.
I thought we had tons of time, but apparently, we are way behind and have some serious catching up to do. I was completely stressed out just thinking about this, and I knew my kid would be too.
We have been so busy focusing on all the other areas of my son’s life that have been taking priority. He’s had some traumatic circumstances occur this past year that took his attention away from even thinking about college and his future–and the same went for us as well.
My older daughter knew exactly what she wanted to do after high school and where she wanted to go to college. She even worked hard to earn a scholarship to the school of her choice, all on her own.
My son’s college process will look nothing like hers, and I know most kids and parents are also trying to figure it all out as they go, just like us.
There are so many great choices for teens today post-high school graduation.
There is no one path for our kids, and there are so many options for our teens to succeed in life, such as joining the military, going to trade schools or community college, or pursuing a job right out of high school. We urged our son to consider all these options.
My son is only 16 years old and doesn’t know what he wants to do for his future career. At this point, he is certain he wants to go to college, so that’s a good start.
We have since learned there is a long list of things our junior needs to do between now and graduation. I know my son is completely overwhelmed, so we will have to take it one step at a time.
One thing I know for sure is that I don’t want my son to lose his high school experience to the stress and strain of the college process. This is a big year full of BIG things, and I want him to enjoy and embrace every area of his life.
It is a difficult balancing act. Of course, I want my son to find the best college for him, but I also want to ensure he can learn how to manage his money and time successfully, and also build new skills and pursue new interests and activities.
Every kid has different strengths and weaknesses–and maturity levels too.
Some kids, like my oldest daughter, are self-driven and laser-focused. But many of our teens are still trying to figure out how to manage their busy lives, and the additional pressure to focus on college preparation can be very stressful.
So, after this college meeting, I felt like a failure as a parent for not being aware of all the things my son needs to do to have the option of going to the college he wants.
But how can I help him be successful in this overwhelming process despite the fact that he is so busy with his current schedule?
It’s tough for parents to find the balance of letting their student take responsibility while also guiding them.
I thought long and hard about my role in his life and how to approach the rest of this big year. I want to help guide him toward accomplishing all he needs to do this year for both high school and preparing for college while also letting him make the decisions that are right for him.
I am a parent-in-progress–always learning how to best raise my kid in the season we’re in.
It’s a steep learning curve, and some days are more challenging than others.
But I’m trying my best with what I know, and I continue to grow into who my kid needs me to be. So, I put together a list to help me set my priorities for this year to help guide my son in the process:
Six Tips to Support Your Teen During their Junior Year of High School
Have your Junior set long-term goals and successive short-term goals to achieve them.
If your kid is anything like mine, they live in the moment and rarely think about the next day or the future. Unfortunately, at this stage in their lives, this doesn’t work.
Juniors need to begin exploring post-graduation ideas and set some long-term goals. Then, it’s good to map out the steps your teen needs to take to achieve them.
I’m constantly reminding my kid to write things on the calendar or check his schedule to see what he has going on almost every day and throughout each week. I know he needs to cultivate the habit of planning his schedule and organizing his priorities according to his responsibilities.
This is an important life skill our kids must practice to manage their time more efficiently. Sit down with your child to discuss their interests, passions, and dreams, and then help them develop specific goals.
Spoiler alert: your kid will probably find this painful. This tedious task might need a lot of guidance and support from the parent.
Some kids are self-driven and organized and can do this on their own, while other kids might need a lot of help. At this age, many kids won’t know what they want to do after they graduate, so researching options might be their first goal. Exploring options such as gap years, work-study programs, vocational education, etc., can be great tools to help kids figure out what they want to do.
Other kids may know their ultimate goal is to attend a specific type of college, so they need to set several short-term goals, such as preparing for standardized tests, focusing on certain academic areas, attending college visits at their school, etc.
Post-graduation goals aren’t the only thing to set because there are other critical areas of our kids’ lives they need to work on as well. Other goals might include their sports training or creative arts studies, job skills, money management, exploring additional extra-curricular activities, participating in community service, and developing self-care habits.
Know when to push your kid and when to pull back.
Our kids are under so much pressure in so many areas of their lives, it’s important we be realistic about what they can and can’t do.
I’ve learned that sometimes teens don’t understand what they can handle in a specific period. Sometimes we need to help them pull back and rearrange those short-term goals to fit a longer timeline. This is particularly true if your child experiences a challenging circumstance, such as a sickness or injury, the loss of a friend or family member, or another traumatic event.
Although goals are important, it’s also important for our teens to understand how to focus on what needs to get done, especially when life steers them off course. And as parents, we need to be flexible and know when to back off when our kids are going through a rough time.
While achieving goals is important, we also have to take a holistic view of our teens and what their schedule looks like. Many juniors are actively involved in sports and other extra-curricular activities that take a lot of their time–and this part of their life is important and deserves their attention. Many also work part-time and have their toughest academic load.
Our big kids need to learn how to prioritize their responsibilities and their social lives because both are critical components of their health and well-being. As parents, we need to be okay with the fact that what we think is important may not be the same as our teens–and that’s okay.
Timing is everything. When deadlines loom, it’s tempting to constantly remind your teen about what they need to do, but trying to talk to a kid who is exhausted and overwhelmed will not get you very far. Consider setting regular check-in days to see how they are working towards their goals.
It’s important we tune into our kids and know when they need us to push them or when we need to pull back and give them the space they need to decompress or do other things that are good for their mental health and well-being. Ultimately, our juniors need to learn how to manage their agenda, which can be very challenging for us parents to let go.
Pay attention to your teen’s mental health.
Our teens are struggling, this we all know.
Growing up in this day and age is HARD because of the constant pressure they face to reach a bar that has been raised way too high in every area of their lives.
Competition is fierce for sports and creative arts, academics, and college admissions.
They are constantly told that what they are doing is not enough and they need to do more.
Our teens are exhausted, and stressed and often feel like they will never meet the unrealistic expectations the world is placing on them.
They are also bombarded with social media and marketing messages that constantly show our kids idealistic images of how they should always have perfect lives and appearances.
They also deal with all the typical teen issues as well, such as peer pressure, evolving friendships, and romantic relationships. Let’s throw in the uproar of hormones that are constantly affecting their emotions and causing massive physical changes.
Our poor teens are dealing with SOMANYTHINGS, and we need to tune into how they are handling it all.
There is nothing more important than our teen’s mental health. Nothing.
Make time to check in with your teen and create a relationship with them where they can have honest conversations with you about how they are feeling.
No goal is more important than the health and well-being of your child. And make sure you get the help your teen needs from a medical professional if necessary.
Remember, your kid is just a kid.
This has been a key factor for me in parenting, and it has challenged me too.
I am deeply aware that my Junior is still very much a kid, and he DESERVES to act like a kid and enjoy life like a kid.
There are times I want him to hunker down and get things done, but sometimes I realize he desperately needs to simply go out and have fun. Balancing all the tasks our kids must do and allowing them to enjoy their lives is a tricky but critical area for us parents to figure out during these years.
It’s so important our kids don’t lose their youth in preparing for adulthood because we all know adulting comes soon enough these days. If my kid decides he really wants to do a fun activity or participate in an exciting overnight event, I allow it even if that means he will sacrifice some work he needs to get done. I am constantly checking myself to ensure I don’t treat my kid like an adult and will often conclude that he deserves to be 16 and enjoy these experiences.
This also spills into my expectations for him. Sometimes I assume he can do certain tasks or manage his life better than he actually can when the reality reveals that he simply can’t.
Parents need to have an honest and realistic understanding of their kid’s abilities and maturity at this stage and age and not push them to be someone they are clearly not. This doesn’t mean they can’t work on developing their skills and make progress with their responsibilities. That’s what this growing-up thing is all about! But pushing them too hard and expecting more than they can give is only going to cause added stress for your kid and oftentimes lead to failure.
Don’t project your dreams and desires on your kid’s future.
It’s so important we don’t project our ideal plan of expectations and goals on our kids but instead let them decide who they want to be. We have to be willing to consider who they are and what they are capable of doing.
As parents, we want the very best for our kids, which sometimes spills into our urging them to create a great plan for their future.
Of course, our desires for our kids are justified and understandable. But we can’t get carried away with our desires and lose sight of our kid’s vision. Sometimes our kids need us to step in and help them set the course, get organized, and find the motivation when they feel lost and uncertain, but we must remember to let them decide their passions and pursuits, not push ours on them.
The key is letting our kids teach us how to best teach them, so they can live up to their full potential in whatever they choose to do.
The greatest gift we can give our kids is our ability to see things from their perspective and honor who they are and what they want to do. This gift lays the foundation for a strong and trusting relationship that can then be built with our guidance, support, and encouragement as our kids navigate this road full of big decisions.
Our kids need to know there is no one right way to go and that whatever road they end up on will have off-ramps too. There are no life decisions that have to be permanent when it comes to planning their future.
Make sure you remind your teen that this is not a fast race with a finish line, this is a lifelong marathon. Every day they will make decisions that will create a path for them to travel and the beauty of our lives is that there are endless roads to choose from, always.
Stay calm and carry on.
Lastly, when our kids see us stressed, they will be stressed too.
I have learned this all too well when I’m getting very anxious that my kid isn’t doing what he’s supposed to be doing or he’s not keeping up with the masses and getting everything accomplished.
He will see me getting more agitated and angry when he isn’t completing the tasks in a timely manner and instead doing impulsive things that are taking up his valuable time. My blood pressure rises, and I sometimes feel like I’m going to explode. Then my kid will tell me I’m stressing him out, which can be both frustrating and discouraging.
Raising teens is already so hard and stressful without the added pressure that pours on us in our current culture. All the digital dangers and societal upheavals and the competitive nature to be better are absolutely overwhelming for parents too!
We need to take big, long, deep breaths and not get sucked into it, or we too will lose sight of the most important part of parenting–loving and supporting our kids where they’re at and nurturing our relationship with them.
Give yourself–and your teen–lots of grace during junior year
Parenting is a LOT of work, and we can easily get entrenched in our kids’ lives during these really big years when they have so much to do while also planning their future. We need to regularly assess our mental health and focus on self-care, so we can help our teens through this challenging, exciting time.
Most of all, we can remind ourselves (as we do the same for our kids) that the road ahead is full of opportunities and choices, and there ultimately are no dead ends.
And we will continue to keep growing and gaining more wisdom and strength right along with our kids as we travel together on whatever road they choose.
Are you in the thick of raising your tweens and teens? You may like this book by Whitney Fleming, the co-owner of Parenting Teens & Tweens: Loving Hard When They’re Hard to Love: Essays about Raising Teens in Today’s Complex, Chaotic World.
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