7 Conversations to Have With Your High School Senior

Parents of high school seniors get caught up in the emotional moments and “last” experiences they are having with their kids. I remember marking each “last” event with my kids with a catch in my throat and a camera in my hand – I didn’t want to miss a thing. At the same time, I knew I had to give them space and privacy to experience their senior years without mom hovering and commenting – though I participated as much as they would allow me to. Fortunately, that was quite a bit. We hosted football pre-game dinners, prom after parties, holiday show choir gift exchanges, and countless gatherings of friends at our house. I loved it all. But even during all the fun, there were practical matters to be dealt with – some of which had to do with getting them ready to leave home and survive and succeed in college.

There were a few conversations that weren’t fun, or easy, but they were necessary. If your senior is gone more than he or she is home, grab a few minutes here and there and get their attention so you can share your bits of wisdom before they leave for college. They may not seem to be paying attention, but they’ll remember what you say, I promise. Just like your kids are constantly on your mind, your voice is consistently in their heads.

Here are some of the conversations we had.

1. Go to class. Do your homework.

This may seem obvious, but there’s a huge amount of freedom – and responsibility – that many kids are experiencing for the first time. Remind them WHY they’re going to college – to get an education. And don’t stop reminding them. It’s all fun and games until someone fails a class.

2. Get them birth control. Talk to them about sex.

I realize that some parents aren’t comfortable talking about this with their children. Some parents believe that by helping their child get birth control they are endorsing sexual experimentation. Here’s the thing – unless your beliefs are such that premarital sex is unacceptable, it’s quite possible that your child will have some sort of sexual experience while in college if he or she hasn’t already. Being properly equipped to be safe and to prevent pregnancy is sensible. You might want to caution your child about the treacherous emotional ups and downs that can come with sexual experimentation. If you’re not comfortable talking to your child about this, find a family friend or relative who is. Give them the control they need to protect themselves.

3. Remind them to stay clean and change their sheets.

I know, you’d think they’d understand this by now, but in many ways your 18 year old is still a child. Soap, toothbrush and toothpaste – send them with plenty of these. As for changing their sheets – who hasn’t heard stories of kids who didn’t change their sheets their entire freshman year? Some of them honestly have no clue unless we tell them – and show them how.

4. Don’t pick up a drink after putting it down.

I started telling both my son and daughter this when they started high school, and continued to remind them of this when they were in college (and beyond). Never, ever leave a drink at a party or gathering and go back to get it. Be smart and think defensively.

5. Travel with a buddy.

Be safe. My daughter went to school in a big city, my son in a smaller one. In both cases, I emphasized to them that it’s always better to walk places at night – and even during the day – with someone beside you. Besides, it’s a good way to get to know people.

Which leads to…

6. Make new friends. Be a joiner. Push yourself.

In the age of social media and texting it can be easy to rely on friends from home to continue to be confidantes and the first place to go for emotional support. It’s so important to find those connections at college with new friends. It doesn’t mean you have to give up your old friends – but it does mean you have to let go just a little. Try new things – clubs, Greek life, intramural sports, study groups. Don’t miss any opportunity to connect with people, and try not to judge people too quickly.

7. Keep in touch with your family – beyond mom and dad.

Email, call, text – especially grandparents. They want to hear from you. They love you. Don’t forget about them. Siblings, too. You may be away from home, but you’re still a member of your family. And when those 4 years are over and you’re a full-grown adult, the family will be more important than you could have imagined. And don’t forget – write a thank you note for any gift you get from your family, be it a check or a candy bar. An email is fine, too.

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  • Sometimes the ‘change your sheets’ conversation has to happen multiple times. Like every week.

  • All great points, Sharon. I’d suggest starting many of these conversations even earlier if possible–and engage in dialogue about them, rather than just handing down edicts. Our kids are much more likely to remember conversations in which they’ve actually taken part, shared an opinion, expressed a doubt. As you say, our voices are always in their heads, so make those voices a force for good.

  • Great tips Sharon! Will add them to my (ever-growing) list of things to cover before eldest heads off to uni next autumn. (The sheets at least will be taken care of in the first year as he’ll most likely go into a hall of residence.)

  • Such good advice I am sharing.

  • Hi Sharon….as you know I don’t have kids of my own but I sure wish my mom and dad had taught me this when I was a high school senior. This is timeless advice for sure! Thanks! ~Kathy

  • Great advice, Sharon! I had a nice chuckle over changing the sheets. That’s quarterly, right?

  • Such great tips and many are easy to forget or think it has been talked about. Birth control is so important. A son or daughter’s dreams can be changed with a pregnancy as a teenager.

  • Excellent tips Sharon, this is a hard year for everyone, your tips are fantastic and I loved the one about talking about sex and advising BC too.. When I was young, using BC was the sign that you intended to be a harlot and was forbidden; they thought that was enough to keep you chaste.. oye..

  • Sharon, this is excellent. I never thought about the drink advice, never mentioned it. Once again parenting experience really pays off.

  • Such terrific advice Sharon! Alot I’m sure some people wouldn’t even think about. The one about leaving your drink is vital. Believe me, it happened to me as an adult once out WITH my husband. Someone had been doing this for fun. All it took was a few drops of Visine and I was sick for days. I may write about this just for the kids going to college. I’ll send it to .Midlife soon, its been so long I had forgotten about it until you reminded me. Very scary!

  • TRAVEL WITH A BUDDY – this cannot be said often enough, for girls and guys!! Living here in Virginia, we’ve experienced such tragedy recently with the issue of wandering off without your friends and the deadly consequences this can bring. Oh, and that sheets thing: send them off with at least two sets, otherwise they really go a whole semester until they can bring the sheets home to wash at the end of the semester. So gross, and so true.

  • Hi,

    Open conversations about sex are very important. Although, I think a general emphasis on safe sex vs. birth control is good. Having a child can be tough but STDs need to be prevented too.

  • Good tips! These tips are regular discussion that I have 102 with my 16 year old. Most of them she follows except for changing the sheets. I just can’t get her to keep her room clean or change the sheet regularly.

  • Nanette

    All I have had conversations with my daughter and play daughters/nieces. Changing sheets is still a reminder I have to state every now and then. #2 Sex Talk – we have had since she was about 10 years old and with my play daughters when they are in high school or going off to college. My daughter has chosen to abstain with the goal to wait for marriage, It has not been easy for her and we have had discussions when it has been difficult. The most important aspect is to KNOW the psychological attachments that occur when sexually active and when you break-up. I had rattled off a list of what you have to do once you are sexually active – can not recall them all but there was about 11 concepts. Both daughters stated that is tooo much work!. It is a reality check with pleasure comes toil.

  • All good suggestions. As someone who has one in college and one who just graduated, I agree with all
    Especially those having to do with safety — not picking up a drink after you’ve put it down, always having a buddy to walk with — those are key, especially with daughters. I have sons but I still worry. What else is new?

  • Spot on. Great advice.. Gotta share!

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