It is Graduation season and an exciting time for Seniors in high school. After many months of waiting, many of them have solidified their plans for after high school and it is time to start celebrating with Prom and year end rituals. While this is a time for enjoying the last few weeks of high school, it is also common to see trouble brewing with friend groups or students doing out of character things as a cry for help. Change can be hard for anyone, and this period is the first time teens are leaving the comforts of high school and home. The end of the school year is a time to find ways to support our teens through closure.
In the last few weeks of school, I often have upset students in my office because of friend group break ups. Some teens do not have the language to express to their friends how they are feeling during this transition period. I have seen these feelings come out in different ways. Sometimes students who have never fought before feel sad or angry and get into misguided arguments with their friends. I have also seen students decide that it is easier to not be friends anymore than to acknowledge that they are sad to not see them as often. It is hard to watch students who have been friends for four years go their separate ways over unexpressed feelings, so I try to provide mediated conversations when they are open to it.
Another scenario that is even harder to watch is when a student does something totally out of character to get people’s attention before high school ends. With only a few more months at home left, I have seen students get in trouble at school, either consciously or unconsciously, as a cry for help. Many times this is a student’s last effort to get the mental health support that they need from their family. During the weeks before finals, I always hope that students make good choices in and outside of school. Having to take disciplinary action before graduation is one of the worst parts of my job, and something happens every year. I want all Seniors to graduate and celebrate their accomplishments, and having to call parents to say their student made a mistake that could jeopardize that is my worst nightmare.
To help prevent these scenarios, it is important to provide graduating seniors with safe spaces for closure. This could be different things like holding a senior retreat where students can reflect and connect through their shared experiences, having extra counselors available, or offering closing activities in advisory and homeroom. Any encouragement for students to process their feelings is beneficial. These activities could alleviate some stress from the upcoming changes in their lives and can prevent choices that could sour the last few memories of high school.
In my experience, it is helpful to help guide students to have conversations about what friendships with their high school friends after school could look like. Most students do not go to the same college or live in the same city as their friends after graduation. Encourage students to talk about their expectations from their friends. Do they want to talk on the phone or text every day to stay connected? Or, are they happy just seeing each other when they are home during school breaks? Both situations are normal and healthy, it just depends what type of relationship they want moving forward.
Similarly, I often work with our counseling team to help families have conversations about what the changes associated with leaving home will be like. The summer before college is a critical time for these conversations and as is setting up new college freshmen with support. With the family we talk about what types of resources will be there at their next school and how both the student and parents can cope with the change. I always acknowledge that graduation and change is hard for parents too!
I also know that if a Senior wants to completely start over in college and leave their old selves behind, that is healthy and normal too. Change can be hard and rewarding. It’s not good or bad, just different. Saying goodbye is the first step of growth. I hope that my students have learned to be open to change and resilient as they take their next steps after high school.