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What Your High School Senior Really Wants for the Holidays

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beautiful girl in striped light blue shirt in red christmas cap standing holding red gift box, unboxing and looking inside

Our children never outgrow wanting “stuff” for the holidays.

Look at your teen’s gift list and you will see the usual items that sound like a foreign language, possibly with footnotes about their emotional dependency for each item. Go ahead, read it:

I really need to have the-most-advanced-tech-thingy-that-you-don’t-know-how-to-use-or-pronounce, or

everyone is wearing this piece-of-cloth-that’s-way-too-expensive-but-I’ll-die-without-it!

As parents, we have been there, done that, and negotiated for years, right?

However, if you have a high school senior, maybe you won’t read such a list this particular season. For most seniors, something extraordinary happens with their wish lists for the holidays. The concept of “time” suddenly becomes important as they know the end of their childhood is coming. Right now, they are being told to order their cap and gown for graduation and focus on life after high school.

So, I investigated what high school seniors really want for the holidays, asking about a dozen who represent the USA, China, and New Zealand. These top five were repeated over and over again.

No. 1 WISH: For the love of seniors, let me sleep in!

One senior wished his mother wouldn’t wake him up every morning during the holidays. “It’s like school never ended. My mom wakes me up at 7 a.m. as if it’s a school day!” Research has revealed repeatedly that teens are not sleeping enough. The National Sleep Foundation reported that teens need eight to 10 hours of sleep per night, but only 15 percent get 8 ½ hours on school nights. During breaks, they want to experience the act of sleeping in, or just getting enough hours in. So let’s give our high school seniors what they need and want: Let them sleep in!

No. 2 WISH: Can we not talk about college or life after high school?

There is no doubt that our society is highly driven and ambitious. We constantly talk about the future to ensure we strive to reach “the dream” (however you define it). As I scan the family calendar, I get impressed with myself on how I can jam so many things into the future. When it comes to our children, my goodness, we unleash the task beast! Think about how many times have you asked a high school senior about their “plans” – “What colleges did you apply to? What are you majoring in? What career are you planning for?”

The seniors I spoke to dreamed of talking about anything but the future. “I just wish that my parents trust that I can handle applying to college on my own. They constantly talk about college and my future, and it stresses me out!” said one senior who still needs to complete college applications during the holidays. Communicating worry, and coupling that with micromanaging, is a stressful burden to your senior, and I am pretty sure there are other interesting topics that will get you more connected to your teen’s life. Consider taking a break from topics surrounding “goals” by scanning YouTube or Instagram together for funny memes or interesting Ted Talks (ok, teens will vote for funny memes). I have done this, and have been educated about the content that is relevant in a teen’s life nowadays. I laugh a lot, too. And get this: My teen is laughing with me!

No. 3 WISH: Silence is golden these days.

Most of us cannot stand our teens being silent. When we ask well-intentioned questions – “What are you thinking, how was your day, and how can I help you?” – we want a long stream of words that are enlightening and reflective. So, when we get, in the following order, “Nothing, fine, and I’ll let you know,” we think something must be wrong. Instead of backing off, we become hunters for information. Translation: We nag.

During the holidays, being silent is not meant to disrespect or disconnect, one senior said. Instead, “I want to hear nothing for a while. I promise I will engage with you (family) over the holiday, but just not all the time.” Hmmm, I am putting silence on my wish list, too.

No. 4 WISH: My grades need a vacation.

There was one specific topic that came up among all the high school seniors when it came to their holiday wish list. “Talking about my grades is like reminding me what my deficiencies are during my entire break. When I am at home, I constantly feel deficient.” I certainly empathize with how it feels to be measured. I definitely do not want my family reminding me about my professional performance indicators when I am enjoying a cup of coffee and reading a good book.

This wish reminds me how often we talk about measurements to evaluate our success in life. What a gift it would be to not hear anything about deficiencies or needed improvements during the holidays! Doing this might lead to the greatest gift of all: joy.

No. 5 WISH: I really need a vacation!

And of course, your high school senior wants a vacation. An island trip or international flight would be great, but honestly, they just want a small adventure in their lives. If you are on a tight budget, maybe take a day-long excursion to a place they always wanted to check out, or a half-day road trip. No matter if you take a fancy vacation or stay home, offering an experience out of the ordinary will do for your senior.

Overall, what surprised me most about high school seniors’ top five wishes for the holidays was this: Their wishes were not expensive or unreasonable. We really can afford what our seniors really want for the holidays.

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Sonja Montiel has served more than 20 years in the college admissions profession, having extensive experience with freshman, transfer and international admissions. Sonja founded College Confidence in 2002 with a philosophy that college planning must be driven by the student through reflection, transparency and accountability to the process. Her students attend and thrive at the finest colleges and universities in the nation.