THE BLOG

How to Help Your High School Senior Say Goodbye

05/31/2011 04:44 pm ET | Updated Jul 31, 2011

The last dance, last pep rally, last yearbook... Senior year in high school is a long series of farewells, most of them highly emotional. As unsettling as it may be to leave their 13-year jobs as students, seniors' most wrenching farewells are usually their goodbyes to friends.

If they're leaving home for college, the workplace or the military, they know they can always return home to reconnect with family. But those treasured friends who shared their lives and knew them best might never be seen again. And although they swear to each other that they will stay in touch, the mere possibility that this is a final farewell is almost too much to bear.

Because of this overwhelming possibility of terminal separation, many seniors' last summer before leaving home is consumed by an urgent, sometimes desperate need to spend as much time as possible with their friends. It's a summer of endless parties and little time at home. A time for hanging out with and hanging onto their friends. Time spent in anxious, mostly unspoken recognition of what and whom they are leaving, while being totally unsure of what truly lies ahead.

You may feel neglected, rejected and hurt by your seniors' spending so much of their free time with friends. Don't take it personally. Instead of making your kids feel guilty about not being with you enough or about breaking curfews (strict curfews are difficult to maintain during the summer of goodbyes), tell them you know how tough, how sad it is to say goodbye to their friends. Invite their friends for dinner. Host a couple of parties for them and their friends. Share how you felt during this emotional summer, when you were in their shoes.

Even though their outward focus is on savoring every last moment with friends, your children know all too well they are also leaving home, and leaving you. The life they have shared with you is changing forever.

They may even provoke arguments with you, give you more attitude and lip in an unconscious attempt to make it easier to leave you. It's easier for seniors to complain to one another, "My family's driving me crazy. I can't wait to leave" than to admit tearfully, "I don't know how I'm going to leave them."

In the midst of your seniors' frenetic, friends-focused summer, make a strong effort to arrange times for them to say family goodbyes. They need one-on-one farewells with you, their siblings and other close family members. Don't expect them to acknowledge they need these intimate moments. They're too busy avoiding and denying fear confusion and heartache. Help them out. Drop them off at grandma's and pick them up in a couple of hours. Give them some money to take their younger siblings out for ice cream. When you arrange and encourage these times alone with you and other family members, you offer them a chance to say their right and proper goodbyes. That's a priceless gift

In this summer of the long goodbye, this last summer of their childhood, your children need your help to let go... and to hang on.

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