Well the graduation season is upon us. It is the time of celebrations and passages. Many parents are feeling the stress of the seasonal events and wondering how to support their graduate in staying safe, as well as how to survive the graduation season themselves.
Grade 12 graduation is a rite of passage. It marks the end of an era and the beginning of a new one for the students. It also marks a significant transition for the parents of these students. For many, the Grade 12 ceremony and graduation is the event that propels children into the adult world. But before these young people enter into the new reality of adulthood there is often a last grasp at adolescence. June can be the month when students are immersed in the world of carefree parties, peers and possibilities. It is a time of excitement and fear as the world is changing in a real way. The festivities surrounding Grade 12 graduation events tend to be an exercise in pushing boundaries, creating memories and grasping the moment. This is all very exciting for the youth involved, and somewhat terrifying for the parents of these youth.
The increasing independence that your child experiences throughout the years is the path to maturity. It is developmentally appropriate for your children to move towards their peers and their future ahead. Every day in your child’s life is a step away from their parents and a step deeper into the world. Of course we want to ground our children and let them know that we are the safe harbour for them in the world, but it is their future that is calling them forward.
So in amongst the parties and celebrations how do we keep our students and young people safe? Every parent has heard the terrifying stories of drinking and driving which led to a graduation night that ended in tragedy. This is our worst nightmare. So how do we let go of the reigns enough that our child can experience their special celebration with some autonomy, but still provide guidance on keeping safe during those moments of abandon and limit testing.
Here are some important steps that will assist you in keeping your children safe during these rites of passage:
- Start talking with them about alcohol, drugs and sexuality early on. This is a conversation that should be led by the adults when children are young. Try to move yourself and your children away from black and white thinking in regards to these topics. Children tend to flip from white to black if they have not been taught critical thinking. The child who vehemently denies that they will ever drink, try drugs or have sex is often the one who goes full on in when faced with the opportunity. We want to teach our children regulation, not all-or-nothing thinking. Discuss different scenarios with your children as they develop and progress through school, letting them know there is no simple right or wrong answer. Educate them about the impact of alcohol and drugs on young brains. The only way to develop critical thinking in our young people is to provide them with information and guide them in making choices. It is ok to let you children know what your expectations are, but as each year progresses your children need to be able to make their own age appropriate choices and learn from the rewards and consequences.
- Make room for the human moments. Let them know that home is a safe harbour, and even if they make mistakes they will be loved and accepted. If they find themselves in a vulnerable situation you want your children to reach out to you. If they fear your judgment and a lecture, they will avoid the best resource they have – you!
- Be prepared to be on call during the graduation celebration season. Grad is no longer one day with a ceremony, a dinner and a party. It takes place throughout the month, and there are many graduation events cumulating in the big events in June. Tell them clearly that you do not want them to be in a vehicle with anyone who has been drinking or is impaired, and that you are willing to pick them up without question or lecture if they need you. If you pick them up, stay quiet that night and talk about it with them the next day. Once they have experienced nature’s consequences they are often more open to a heart to heart with their parent. There can be some amazing conversations between you and your child in the wake of one of these nights that builds a deeper intimacy and understanding between you.
- Assist them in setting up a safety plan. Do this in a non-judgmental, step by step manner that develops their higher reasoning. Encourage them to think of the details and what the back-up plan might be. It is natural for them to want to celebrate; we just want to assist them in balancing fun with practical information and plans.
- Encourage them to have a buddy system. You cannot be there with them every moment, nor should you be. You had your own rite of passage when you graduated Grade 12 and now it is their turn. Ask them to set up a system with a trusted friend where they watch out for each other. Youth will work hard to ensure their friend’s safety, thus insuring their own safety as well.
Graduation from Grade 12 is a milestone, so work together with your youth to keep those graduation stories joyful and fun.