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Preparing Your Older Teen for High School Graduation and College

Another school year is quickly coming to a close. What is your high school senior planning to do next? Anything? If not, uh oh! Shame on you. Preparing your child for high school graduation and then college should begin long before the senior year of high school. Adolescents who are still juniors should give some thought to finishing high school and preparing for higher education or a career.

Here are some tips that moms and dads (who may have procrastinated up to this point) can use to help their adolescents ensure a timely and complete high school graduation, and then prepare for college:

1. First of all, preparing an adolescent for high school graduation and then college is not something that can be done in a month or a year. It is something that moms and dads should begin thinking about - and planning for - emotionally and physically as soon as their teenager is ready. By offering the teen an opportunity for growth and responsibility, parents will find that as college approaches, their teen is ready for life in more ways than educationally.

2. Don’t waste your hard earned money. Many moms and dads are eager to throw their own financial future under the bus in order to fund a long-distance college experience (e.g., having the child attend a college in a neighboring U.S. state, or even in a different country). A better idea (since you’re not 100% sure this college thing is going to work out at this point) would be to have your teenager attend locally at first until he can prove that this pursuit is worth $60,000 per year.

In the meantime, save for your own retirement. Involve your teenager in the financial aid process, payments and costs. While still in high school, encourage him to work and pay for certain amenities on his own (e.g., cell phone, car insurance, etc.). You should not have to pay for an expensive car without your teen helping (that would be a great disservice to him in the long). Learn to say “no” early in your child’s teenage years, insist that he be financially responsible for himself on as many levels as possible, and don’t be a dupe. In this way, you and your adolescent can come up with a financial plan that works.

3. Introduce your teenager to real-world experiences. Volunteer work, part-time summer jobs, a driver's license, etc., all help to round out a teenager's developmental growth and prepares her to take a place in the community.

4. Keep tabs on your teenager's GPA. This will become one of the chief indicators of his academic performance that colleges and universities will consider when deciding whether to admit him or not. Encourage your adolescent to maintain a B-level grade average, and arrange for him to take the SAT or ACT test during the junior year of high school if possible. Study classes are available that can be taken to prepare for the test, and it usually can be taken once for practice and again for a better score. Ask your child’s guidance counselor for more information.

5. Make sure your child completes all required courses. Depending on the school system in which she is enrolled, there are usually a certain number of classes that must be successfully passed in order to be eligible to receive a high school diploma. Meet with the school counselor to go over your child’s transcript and check to be sure all requirements are met (e.g., foreign language class, physical education, certain electives, etc.).

6. Prepare your adolescent for the darker side of college life. No mother or father wants to see their teenager fall into the deep pit of sexual promiscuity, drinking, and drug abuse. Nonetheless, the parent has to remain aware that this world exists – and is waiting for the child in college. Many of the young people who have not had to experience serious negative situations are completely unprepared to face them in real life.

Never think that your teenager would never do something (e.g., some pot) – because he will – and college offers the perfect opportunity. Talk to your child about what is going on in his high school, and remain open to hearing what he has to say about sex, alcohol, and illicit drugs. Be non-judgmental in your conversations and realize that your child already knows more than you are giving him credit for. Of course, DON'T encourage your teenager to drink or try drugs, but DO allow him to make a few mistakes of his own as he navigates the real world. Being too strict or harsh with your teenager through the high school years will likely create a situation in which he goes “hog-wild” once he gets a taste of college-life and the associated freedom.

7. Prepare yourself emotionally. Many moms and dads become sad and feel as though their teenager’s graduation represents a certain end in their life (empty-nest syndrome). At this age, your child is standing at the threshold to the next phase in her life. Part of parenting is realizing that your teen is an individual who has to live HER life. If you have successfully parented your teenager and have built a solid family unit, then you can feel safe in letting her go.

8. Consider the addition of special skills courses. Classes focusing on computer programming, critical thinking, diversity, family management, reading and literature, and writing are some of the newer topics to emerge in high school curricula in recent years. Your teenager will do well to take as many electives as he can successfully manage without compromising his GPA and still maintain a balanced lifestyle. These will look good on a record transcript, which becomes another indicator for college admissions screening.

9. Teach your teen personal survival skills. Learning how to balance a checkbook, cook for yourself, find the nearest airport, pick up after yourself, put air in the car’s tires, financial budgeting and opening a savings account are important tasks that all young people need to master before coming of age and living on their own.

10. Teach your teen how to prioritize and schedule. Stress how important it is to be accurate in her personal planning, and help her understand that the more she plans ahead, the more time they will have for fun stuff (or sleep). Each week – from now until your child leaves for college – make sure she delivers her schedule to you and have you sign off on it. In this way, the two of you can be sure that she is sticking to her own plan (and since it is HER plan, she can take control and ownership of it). If you discover a big miscalculation in her plan, let it be a lesson so that she experiences the consequences and can make appropriate corrections in the future. This is the only way she can learn and prepare for adult life.

If adolescents learn a good portion of the tips listed above, they will be in great shape for graduating high school with a significant degree of knowledge and confidence, ready to go on to college and take care of themselves.

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