Managing Graduation Stress Hissah EC

I’ve taken down the tree, unplugged the coloured lights, boxed the ornaments and pretty much packed up the remnants of another year. The post-holiday ritual of putting up and taking down has me meandering through the corridors of time, opening windows to a future and closing doors of the past. I am aware that every beginning, exciting as it may be, is also an ending. And that transitions to new stages in our lives are oftentimes met with a mix of emotions that range from eager anticipation to reluctant loss.

From KG to Graduation

This year, for example, the youngest of our grandchildren started Kindergarten and the eldest of our grandkids will soon be graduating high school. For her, the next few months should be a dizzy time of excitement and anticipation. However, like many of her classmates, the lead up to graduation is also a time of heightened drama and weeping as she struggles to manage powerful, confusing and sometimes totally opposite feelings that are a natural (though unrecognized) part of the countdown to graduation.

Indeed, studies show that about 30% of students in their senior year of high school report being totally overwhelmed by their workload and life in general. What with school work, sports, after-school activities, exams and the added pressure of college applications looming in the near future, it’s no wonder that stress levels of senior students are through the roof. Of course, these feelings are normal accompaniments to important life changes. Yet students often comment on how stupid or ashamed they feel for being sad, anxious, stressed and nervous. These emotions, however, are both important and purposeful as they provide signals from our psyches to our conscious selves: transitions are in motion, growth & change are taking place.

Growing pains

Although at times painful and uncomfortable, moving beyond our comfort zone is what puts us in new situations where we are encouraged to grow and develop new skills, competencies, and abilities. The trick, of course, is getting through these stages of life change in a healthy and meaningful way. But this is easier said than done. The very nature of the important milestone of high school graduation brings a whole range of emotions to the surface. It’s important that parents understand this if they are to help their teens move positively through this transition.

Caring adults should be aware that students:

Fear the unknown: Though they may not admit it, teens are scared. For many, this is uncharted territory. The college-bound student will be entering a new land and have no idea of what to expect. “Will academics be as rigorous as rumoured”? “Will I be up to the task?”. It’s not uncommon in the second half of the year for seniors to become disengaged, somewhat depressed or downright sullen.

Will be leaving friends and the security of known community: They will be thrust into unfamiliar surroundings far from the shelter and comfort of family and their usual group of friends. The realization that they are experiencing things like school sports events, clubs, friends, for the very last time suddenly hits home. It’s not uncommon for students in the second half of their senior year to react by resisting curfews or bending some family rules.

Fear of Failure: This is probably the most common fear. “Will I be able to manage this huge step”? Students heard the horror stories- drop-outs, job drudgery, exam nightmares, hard-nosed professors and the anonymity of large classrooms.

Are Preparing for adulthood: Graduation is a rite of passage, a doorway to adulthood. For seniors, it means getting the one thing they asked for during most of their teenage life… independence. “Am I ready for the responsibility”?

What can parents do?

As adults, we often forget that change (new job, relationship, move, etc.) is hard enough for many of us and that we struggle when we are forced to transform part of our lives. Imagine what it’s like for a teen whose (not-yet-fully developed) brain has to cope with the huge transformation that graduation entails. Just as adults need support, so too do our teens need the emotional support and non-judgmental encouragement from caring adults as they transition through this life milestone.

Helpful Tips

1) Allow your teen to have the full range of emotions; mindful and appreciative of the moment, while helping them keep on track.

2) Help your senior chart the course and plan ahead. Having a map of what’s upcoming in the months ahead eases the stress (application deadlines, graduation parties, summer jobs, vacations, etc).

3) With so many decisions to make, this is a good time to help teens sharpen their problem-solving skills. Using SODA, a stress management method is helpful. Sit down together & write:

Situation (what it is you’re planning or deciding)
Options (come up with at least two, and preferably three)
Disadvantages (for each option)
Advantages (for each option)
Solution (weighing it all together, what will you do?)

4) While the planning and problem-solving are important, we mustn’t forget that high school graduation is a major accomplishment and a time of celebration. Take every opportunity to express your love and support. Above all else, parents’ patience, calm and reassurance will help seniors to fully enjoy this special time.

Ready and Strong

Preparing for our grandchild”s graduation is an event that evokes a whirlwind of feelings. It seems that only yesterday, we were fretting nervously over her readiness to enter KG and embark on her educational journey. Today, we savour every moment because what our granddaughter taught us from that experience, is that she will launch, ready and strong, into the wider world.