Understanding and Preventing Senioritis
So many teens slack off during their last year of high school that the phenomenon has a name – “senioritis.” If a teen has decided not to go to college, then they tend to “zone out” in classes. Their mindset is, “Seriously, when will I ever need to know the symbolism of this poem or the date that a war started?” If a teen has decided to go to college, then they often begin to slack once they get their college acceptance letters. They may take fewer classes, drop out of extracurricular activities, or let their grades slide because they feel they have ‘earned’ a break and they already have their college locked in. Additionally, there are many distractions senior year, such as prom, senior-coordinated days to skip school, pranks, spring break trips and graduation parties. The end is finally in sight and teens want to celebrate. Although senioritis is understandable with lots of possible causes, there are also some difficult consequences that come with this attitude.
Experts in the field of education believe there are several causes for senioritis. Following is a description of some of the most common:
- Lack of purpose. Many seniors don’t see the relevance of their final classwork. Those who are going to college have already received acceptance. Colleges and universities base their acceptances on a student’s high school record through junior year. Because senior year is irrelevant to the process, students have no incentive to maintain grades and activities. Although colleges can and do revoke acceptances if a student’s grades fall too low during senior year, they don’t do this routinely. Meanwhile, those students who are not going to college realize that most of what they are learning in school will not help them in a future job.
- Boredom. High school seniors aren’t often challenged in the second half of the senior school year as their workload may dwindle for some of their classes and schools may fail to keep them engaged in learning.
- Parental apathy. This one may be a shocker, but it happens. Parents don’t mean to be apathetic, but there are a couple of situations where it may occur. For example, after a few years of not having to discipline a teen for schoolwork because they have been working independently and doing it well, parents are surprised to see that they need to crack the discipline whip again. Alternatively, parents may view senior year as their child’s last chance to be free before taking on the responsibility of a job and rent or the challenges of a full load of college courses.
- Fear of change. Although teens are looking forward to growing up and moving on, they also recognize that they are entering a very new situation. They will miss the familiarity of high school and their friends and their home life. They often feel uncertain of their ability to handle the new demands they will face – college courses or finding a job.
- Burnout. Students have been in school for 13 years and are now charged with cementing their plans for their future. Their schedules are crammed full with sports and extra-curricular activities, part-time jobs, tests and school projects, friends, college or technical school visits and applications, scholarship searches, and job or career searches. Burnout is understandable.
- Peer Pressure. As we mentioned before, there are many distractions senior year. If your teen’s friends are all skipping school on the official “senior ditching” day, it may be difficult for your child to refuse. Prom, spring break trips and graduation parties also add to the pressure of having a final celebration.
Senioritis might seem almost justified to some parents… we’ve all slacked off once in a while at the end of a long project. However, parents should not take it lightly. A minor case of senioritis won’t cause any harm, but who’s to say how far they will go. Senioritis can lead to falling grades, school discipline (detentions and suspensions), loss of school credits preventing graduating, loss of ability to play on the school sports team, loss of acceptance to their college of choice, and less financial aid.
Additionally, not only does senioritis result in poor school performance, which can come back to haunt them, it also leads to risky behavior. A teen may think that they have “been good” during their high school years and now that graduation is so close, they want to cut classes, use alcohol, become more intimate with their significant other, stay out later, or try drugs.
Finally, students who have been accepted to college and stop paying attention to their classes may get quite a shock when they arrive at college and discover they cannot do the work. Although 70% of high school seniors enroll in college, only half of them earn degrees. Many students spend freshman year in remedial classes to catch up. If your child has to enroll in remedial classes, it may take him five years or more to graduate, costing more money.
How can you prevent senioritis? Believe it or not, parents have a lot of influence on a child’s attitude for their senior year. Following are some tips.
- Sit down with your teen prior to their senior year and discuss your expectations. Be clear and specific about what you would like to see: grades, attending classes, rules, etc. Also, be clear about the consequences of not meeting these expectations. Be sure to make this a conversation, actively listening to your teen’s input, but be firm in what’s important to you.
- Focus on their future. Teens need you to help them plan – they’ve never prepared for a life after school before! Ask what they hope to get out of their last year in high school. Most likely, they will not have thought about it, and it’s a parent’s role to help them identify what they need to know as they leave your nest. Give them “assignments” that will help them prepare for life after school, such as getting a part-time job or cooking a family meal once a week. If they are going to college, encourage them to set goals for scholarships. If they are not going to college, encourage them to start exploring possible careers.
- Create small goals. If your teen has specific targets throughout the school year to attain, they will stay more focused and motivated, while learning the benefits of goal setting. The goals can be very simple (such as getting a grade of C or better in all of their courses or applying to a certain number of technical schools per month), but they must be specific with a time limit.
- Emphasize college preparation. First of all, Advanced Placement (AP) exams will be held near the end of senior year and many of these exams can save students time and money in college. Achieving a certain score on these types of exams would be a great goal for the college-bound teen. Additionally, point out that slacking off in their senior year will not do anything to help them perform well in college. Many teens are dismayed to discover that they are not academically prepared to do the course work. Tell your teen that their senior work will allow them to be in a better position when they arrive in college.
- Emphasize career preparation. Regardless of whether your teen is headed to college or not, you should think of senior year as a great time to explore career interests. Find out if your student can do an internship at an interesting work place such as a courthouse or hospital. Senior year is a great time to take classes that serve as an introduction to interesting off-beat fields like culinary arts, forensics and web design.
- Check up on your teen. They may seem too old to be checked up on, but knowing you will be keeping on top of what they need to do in class is motivation enough for many teens.
- Encourage your teen to continue their extracurricular activities such as sports, drama or newspaper. Seniors usually take over leadership roles in such activities. Being in charge of underclassmen provides valuable, confidence-boosting experience for college and career.
- Celebrate their accomplishments throughout their senior year. While it’s important to avoid senioritis, it’s also a time of compromise, when you give your teen more privileges and responsibilities, and a time of celebration how far they have come. Give them plenty of opportunities to enjoy their friends and blow off steam, and they will likely be more understanding of your expectations for schoolwork, grades and responsibilities.
It is up to you and your child to make senior year a meaningful experience.