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(Michelle Thompson for The Globe and Mail)
(Michelle Thompson for The Globe and Mail)

Anthony E. Wolf on parenting

After graduation, what's next? Navigating your teen's summer of unease Add to ...

The end of high school is a very strange time for teens.

This is true both for kids going off to university and those who will continue to live at home. The message in our society is clear: When your class graduates from high school - at precisely that point when the last diploma has been handed out and the principal announces "Congratulations, class of 2010" and a cheer surges from the class and their assembled relatives - you are no longer a child. You are now an adult.

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So what does the end of childhood feel like? Ask your teen.

"It's really weird. It's like I'm nowhere and everybody else is in the same nowhere. And we're wandering around and there's like a bond between all of us. But we all know that it's ending. Everything is ending. Everything that was is ending. And then we're all on our own. And everybody tries to be all upbeat and cheery, talking about what they're going to do over the summer and in the fall. But underneath everybody is scared. How can they not be? It's just so weird."

"If it could be just a little bit longer. Everybody is just getting to know each other. Just when we're really starting to bond with kids who you hadn't even hung out with before. Just when we really do have class spirit. For each other. It doesn't seem right that it should just now end."

It's weird at home, as well. As a parent, you don't really know what to make of your own child. Just as your teen knows he's officially an adult, you also know that he's officially an adult. Your orders ring hollow now.

"Jason, how many times do I have to tell you to put the hose back by the side of the house?"

Meanwhile, your teen is probably thinking, "She's giving me orders like I'm a kid? I don't think so. That day is gone forever."

And you feel the same way, which is why the words die in your throat as soon as you finish uttering them.

"I can't really be ordering him around like I used to. He's not a kid any more."

It is all very strange. What happens is that up until graduation, and then through the summer, there is a sense of unease, uncertainty.

Some teens will articulate it to themselves: "What if things don't work out? I'm supposed to somehow manage. Go out there. Be able to make a life for myself. What if I can't do it? What then? I don't want to think about it because I can't even imagine it. What if I can't make it on my own?"

Many don't even put it into words. They just have that nagging sense of something looming in the future that they are not sure about. Foreboding. If they keep busy maybe they can run ahead of it, keep their optimism that their new life will come and they will be able to handle it.

But the underlying tension is there. And sometimes things that had seemed calm can suddenly blow up.

"Mom, there's no soda in the house. What the hell?"

"I'm sorry, Evan. I haven't had a chance to go to the store this week."

"What am I supposed to do?"

"Well, you could drive to the store now and buy some. I'll give you money for it."

"What the hell? What is this place? All I want is a soda and there's nothing in the house. What the hell?"

"What is his problem?" you might think.

Worry. That's his problem.

It has a cure - September comes, and now that very strange unknown part of their life has arrived. They do not return to school with their friends as they always have. They start their new life - whatever that life may be. There will be new stresses. But not the looming sense of unease. Because now they are finally there. Their future has arrived.

What's a parent to do? Just be aware of what's happening. You can even talk to him about it: "It must feel strange. Ending high school and starting out on your new life."

Which is not such a bad thing to say. It says that you do understand - and that they aren't so weird to feel the way they're feeling. It can take a little of the edge off their anxiety. That they are not totally alone with it.

"Ýeah, it is weird."

 

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