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Life's Big Questions: How Will I Make it Through My Kid's Senior Year?

Having recently watched several fellow parents ride the roller coaster that is a kid's senior year of high school, I believe we could all use some guidance as to how to make the most of that experience.

Between riding their kids to make sure essays were written and application deadlines met, accommodating their offspring's accelerated social lives while keeping the family intact, and coming to terms with their children's inevitable move away from the family and toward independence, most of my friends found the whole thing both draining and exhilarating.

Those kids are now safely ensconced in colleges -- not necessarily their No. 1 dream choices, but good schools nonetheless -- and their parents are shaking their heads, wondering where the time went and, in some cases, what the big fuss was about.

I figured I'd interview a few experts and get advice as to how to make it through your kid's senior year with a minimum of conflict, tension, and emotional drama and a maximum of, well, pleasure in each other's company and accomplishments. But while there are tons of resources offering guidance to parents of students in their first year of college, I found surprising little information about managing aspects of senior year other than the college application process. I did get to talk with Rachel Korn, editor of How to Survive Getting Into College, published by Hundreds of Heads Books, Inc. Hundreds of Heads also runs a terrific advice Web site. Among oodles of other useful options offered there, kids in their senior year can register at to receive free weekly tips about surviving senior year.

Korn shared these tips:

* Don't be a nag. When it comes to the college application ordeal, "Resist the urge to check in at every single meal. Your child is already completely freaked out, even if they don't say anything. Try not to put your anxiety on them."

* Curb your competitive spirit: Keeping a lid on anxiety gets harder as the year goes on and you start to recognize which kids are your kid's direct competition. "That can breed parental competition," Korn says. "Try to take yourself out of that as much as possible."

* Spurn slacking: Don't let your kid slack off schoolwork or skip classes second semester. "That could accidentally start a bit of a habit," Korn says. "The best kind of parents arm their kid with tools to succeed in life. Letting this start to slip is sending a bad message."

* Get in the game: Attend as many college-admissions workshops and information sessions as you can. "The more information you have, you can feel a bit more calm. Without information, the process seems mysterious" and anxiety-producing.

* Pencil it in: Depending on how much structure and guidance your kid needs, help him or her develop a calendar showing the dates things are due and, by tracking back, when your kid needs to start working on whatever's coming due. "You could get a really big wall calendar and post those dates there," Korn advises. That allows you to "gently keep him on track without being right on top of him."

* Get your fair share: To balance your desire to spend some time with your child before she leaves for school with her need to hang with her friends, try making some compromises. "Say 'I want you to enjoy your friends, but if you go here or there with them, I would like you to join us for such and such, too,'" Korn suggests.

* Be there: Make a special effort to be involved in your kid's activities this last year. "Show up for every game and every performance," Korn recommends. "Be sure to support your kid a little extra."

Now's your turn to be the expert. College-kid parents, what advice do you have for parents whose kids have just started 12th grade? And you folks with younger kids, are you looking forward to senior year? Have you started to panic yet?

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  September 10, 2008; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Life's Big Questions  
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you know, there are kids that don't go to college after high school, but from this article it sounds as if every student is going to graduate from high school and move into a dorm.

Posted by: jen | September 10, 2008 8:29 AM | Report abuse

I agree with jen. I know plenty of kids that do not go to college right after high school. As parents we need to encourage them that if college is not for them right away, they need to think about going to school for a trade or doing an internship to figure out what they want to do

Posted by: mike | September 10, 2008 9:47 AM | Report abuse

Excellent point, jen and mike. The parental-advice industry seems to focus much more on kids going straight to college than on kids who have other plans. I wonder how different the senior-year experience is for folks whose kids aren't making a beeline for college. Any thoughts?

Posted by: Jennifer Huget | September 10, 2008 10:06 AM | Report abuse

This article has absolutely nothing to do with me. Neither of my parents finished high school -- that pesky little thing called World War II showed up and Dad was drafted, Mom quit school to work through the war. Anything to do with college was totally foreign to them. No way were they going to drive me to College Park and pay $10 for me to take the college entrance exams. I was told to learn to type and get a job after school. We all turned out OK. If you kid isn't college material get them to learn a vocation. Plumbers, builders, mechanics and electricians all earn good salary. Where would we be without them, and there's no shame in physical labor. Everybody can't be a high-priced lawyer. We don't need any more lawyers!

Posted by: South of the Beltway | September 10, 2008 2:27 PM | Report abuse

My parents didn't finish college. In 1968 during my senior year, I established and met all of my deadlines. No one nagged me because no one understood it. I filled out the financial aid forms for them, with their input. I simply can't imagine a high school senior who needs to be nagged to get this done on time. I had to fuss at my parents to leave me along so I could get done what I needed to get done, and I couldn't enjoy recreational activities with them. I went to a highly selective college, and graduate school, with scholarships and substantial aid. It is an important part of growing up to set one's own goals, schedule, and deal with the consequences. Parents should be supporting, and not babying, their children.

Posted by: Laocoon | September 10, 2008 3:06 PM | Report abuse

In 1968 during my senior year, I established and met all of my deadlines.
Some kids can still do this, but, really, the admission process is a business now, with some parents even paying consultants upward of $35, 000 a year in an effort to get their kids into an Ivy League school.

The stress is normal, I can empathize, we've all been there, I suppose, I try to see it from their point of view.

Posted by: East-West BBQ Jugband | September 10, 2008 4:55 PM | Report abuse

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