High school graduation day is supposed to be one of the best days in your life. But the unsettling truth is it can be a time of great anxiety—for both students and parents. Even though this is a milestone, a combination of both positive and negative emotions can turn this happy time into one filled with stress. It’s hard to imagine that this time for celebration also produces feelings of fear, frustration, sadness and separation. But it does.
Why is there such anxiety around this time of celebration and accomplishment?
Graduation Anxiety for the Students
Of course students are happy and excited about their graduation; but they can also exhibit signs of stress and anxiety. The very nature of this life event brings a whole range of emotions to the surface. It’s important for parents to understand what their teen is feeling to help them through the transition.
Fearing the unknown
It’s only natural for students to be afraid of what lies ahead. Even if they have visited the campus and talked to faculty and students, the very fact that they will be entering uncharted territory brings up the fear. They have no idea what to expect once they arrive on campus. They know academics will be more difficult—will they be able to handle the rigors of college courses? All of these unknown factors cause them to be afraid (even though they might not admit it).
Leaving family and friends
Your college-bound teens have probably been saying for months, “I can’t wait to get out of the house and be on my own.” But don’t believe it. When it comes right down to it, they know they will be leaving the shelter of their family and the comfort of their friends. It’s a difficult transition for an 18 year old and they may begin to drag their feet, postpone college-related actions, and become somewhat depressed over the next few months.
Wondering if they will succeed
It’s only natural for them to be concerned about failing. They have undoubtedly heard stories of other students dropping out, failing, and/or being put on academic probation. This is a huge step in their life and they want you to be proud of them.
Preparing for adulthood
Leaving the comfort of home and moving on to independence can be overwhelming. You have taken care of their food, clothing, and shelter needs for 18 years. At college, they will be responsible to handle this on their own. It’s a rite of passage but it’s also scary for them. Again, they may not admit it, but be cognizant of this anxiety.
Graduation Anxiety for the Parents
Even though it’s the student who is graduating, parents experience anxiety around graduation. Recognizing the feelings you have will help you cope and face the future with anticipation and excitement.
Losing your baby
You’re graduating from years of college prep. For most parents it starts early—thinking and planning for their college education. When they are born, you think you have all the time in the world. This month, that time has flown by and you can’t believe they will be leaving soon for college. And the anxiety over losing your baby begins.
Fearing for their safety
College is a frightening place for parents. Your student is living away from you, not accountable to anyone but himself or herself. They will be out at night, out with friends, and probably doing things that they were not allowed to do at home. Not to mention all the school shootings. This makes a parent even more anxious. It’s a difficult transition for parents, but one you will have to face. If you ask questions at parent orientation about campus safety and emergency practices, you will rest easier. But you’re always going to worry about them when they are away from home.
Facing the empty nest
After years of shuffling them to school, sports, working on homework, and most recently spending every waking moment on college prep, what will you do with all this free time? If this is your only child, you’re going to feel lost. If this is your last one and you’re facing an empty nest, be prepared to grieve. It’s going to happen; embrace it. Then, as with all grief, it will pass and it’s time for you to readjust your priorities. It’s time to ask yourself this question: What do I want? For 18 years or more it’s been all about them; now it’s time for it to be all about you!
Wondering if they are ready for adulthood
How will they remember to do their homework, wash their hands, clean their rooms, and get up in time for class? What will they eat and when will they eat? Will they get enough rest and concentrate on their health? Will they make friends easily? Will they succumb to peer pressure? You’ve been their lifejacket for the last 18 years. It’s time for them to swim, and possibly sink, on their own. Trust that you have taught them well and if they do start to struggle or fail, they will work it out as all adults must do. It’s scary standing on the sidelines but it’s time to remind yourself they will be fine without you.
One mom says it perfectly:
This adulthood is in actuality an individualization, not just for the child, but for the parents as well. Most parents have not been living their lives as "individuals" since before the birth of their children, sometimes even since before they became married. Therefore this anticipation of "being on my own" can easily be viewed with both fear and excitement for parents and their children.
Graduation is a universal "moving on." It conjures up images of our childhood and the consummate camp song "Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other is gold. Circle is round, it has no end. That's how I want to be your friend."
So as graduation approaches, wipe the tears, celebrate their achievement, and look ahead to the future. It’s going to be an exciting era—for both you and your kids.