Parenting Tips for Managing Senior-itis and The Transition to College

Managing Senior-itis and The Transition to College

The transition from high school to college can be challenging for both parents and teens. As parents, you’ve watched your child grow away from you inManaging Senior-itis and the Transition to College, Kim Rinko, LCSW the past few years, as she begins to establish herself and find her way in the world. On the one hand, that transition has probably led to a certain amount of tension and conflict within the family. On the other, these changes have likely given everyone a certain amount of perspective on personal responsibility, self-management and the challenges of becoming a young adult.

Self-management is probably one of the biggest obstacles for a teen, as he starts to sort out his adult responsibilities, along with the natural and logical consequences he may face as a result of not fulfilling those responsibilities. One of the most common and concerning aspects of faltering self-management is that months-long lapse in judgement we like to call senior-itis.

For most teens, senior-itis starts right around winter break of senior year and intensifies until it peaks as school acceptances start rolling in. Teenagers often take this time as a cue for what may begin as an extended coffee break and then lead into the forsaking of just about everything that has led to those admissions letters showing up in the mailbox in the first place.


As a parent, you may feel more than a bit powerless in the face of your teen’s noncompliance. You’ve probably also learned that calling her on it will only lead to conflict and strife, rather than any kind of substantive resolution. One of the most effective tools to redirect behavior—especially when you find yourself consistently coming up against the immovable object that is your teenager—is using consistent, scripted responses. This is not to be patronizing, or bully your teen into compliance. Rather, it’s a way to deliver a consistent, gentle reminder of the ground rules that have, thus far, served everyone fairly well. “Can I sleep over Casey’s tonight?” can easily be met with, “It’s a school night. We don’t do sleep overs on school nights.” Even better is using a question, rather than a statement. “Can I sleep over Casey’s tonight?” “Is that OK with Casey’s parents? I’m not sure I’d be up for that on a school night.”


Another effective strategy for supporting your teen with the challenges he or she may be facing is called “pre-teaching”. One of the underlying stresses for anyone experiencing change is the unknown, and, for teens, this can be especially true. Pre-teaching is an effective means for setting expectations around change, making those transitions less disruptive both socially and emotionally. For example, something as simple as saying, “You’re going to have to decide what to bring to school with you, so it might be a good idea to start thinking about that.” simultaneously delivers an instruction on your part, while setting an expectation for your teen.

Holding Space

Something else to take into consideration for both you and your teen is that for the past several years, your teen’s life has been nothing but change—physically, emotionally and socially. While that social change may have included shifting friend groups and the exploration of romantic attachments, the difference between that period and this new phase of life is that, now, his or her entire social landscape is changing. It’s not just connections and the way he or she is connecting, but the context those connections are happening in. That can be overwhelming, and some of the behavior and attitude you’re experiencing with your teen may not just be acting out, but could be an expression of stress, fear, anxiety and even depression. The source of your frustration may, in fact, be a marker for your teen’s deeper struggle around finding his or her place. Holding space for that struggle, and finding ways to walk with your teen on his or her journey into life will create balance for both of you as you move forward.