The Best Gift for Your High School Graduate: Providing Perspective  

By Anna McDonald, Director of Family Learning

When your child walks across the high school graduation stage, it’s a significant moment in a child’s life, your life as a parent, and the lives of those who loved and supported them throughout their first 18 years. It’s truly a time for reflection, tears, celebration, and heartfelt conversations. From sleepless nights (lots of them) to stressful days, to laughter and memories made around the kitchen table with their friends, you did everything you could to give them wings to fly.

As a parent, you are slowly getting fired from one of the most wonderful jobs on earth. Perhaps it’s even the only job you ever wanted to do. As parents, it is a primary goal to raise independent, loving, kind and productive adults who can care for themselves. To accomplish this goal, much of parenting means phasing yourself out as you empower your young adults with more autonomy over their lives.

There are times when your heart is so full and overflowing with love and happiness for your children that you think it might burst. But between those moments of joy, countless hours are filled with unglamorous chores. Vacuuming Goldfish crackers off the floor of your car, driving kids to and from games, making meals, and removing grass stains from white uniforms are not particularly exciting tasks.

When high school graduation finally arrives, a familiar emotion parents face is realizing just how fast time flies. For parents with kids going away to school after graduation, we often get so caught up in the parties and celebrations that we move right onto the lengthy to-do lists for post-secondary education, whether college or otherwise.

However, as a family, you can be ready to take advantage of teaching moments during this time in life, which can provide the perfect opportunity to discuss wealth, values, and responsibility. Families often miss the natural opportunity to talk with their children about the cost of post-secondary education (especially college, which can vary widely), how it is paid for, and why it’s being funded that way.

The young adult years can be an incredibly dynamic period of psychological growth of any developmental stage. This time in life allows young adults to socialize and connect with people who model different roles and lifestyles. Young adults begin to figure out who they are apart from their families, and if living on their own, whether at college or otherwise, this chapter can prompt significant growth in almost all aspects of their lives. They can learn from the freedom of making decisions and experiencing both successes and failures.

For these reasons, young adults in college or other post-secondary education are the ideal age for reflection and introspection as they begin to piece together what values, habits, and lifestyles they want to maintain. They will learn to manage emotions, develop mature relationships, find a purpose, and foster integrity. 

Before the ‘birds leave the nest’ on their next educational journey, there are a few key concepts parents can discuss with their young adults. 

  • Share your family story. Successful families often have stories of perseverance, hard work, discipline, and overcoming fears. How did the business you own come to be? How did you find success in your career? What struggles did you face? What did you do to pay for your education, and how is that different (or similar) from what your children will experience? Talk about how their education will be paid for, the values you gained from your education (whether collegiate or otherwise), and the associated costs. 
  • Create clear expectations for family financial support. Make a list of things the family is paying for and expectations for what bills your child will pay. Discuss expectations on grades, spending money, visiting home, and summer jobs. Discuss your expectations for communicating the grade report to parents. Will you have access to grades? Will the student let you know their grades? 
  • Prepare a budget together and teach them how to manage cash flow. Budgeting can start with ensuring they can log on to banking apps and track their spending and transactions. Explore them having their own personal account to manage this process.

In addition to conversations you can have with your child, you could implement a few ideas to encourage responsibility while helping them define their passion and purpose. 

  • Encourage the young adult to engage older generations in the family. Have them ask about what challenges they overcame. Offer a dinner together for this sole purpose, or a social visit with an older family member in the extended family or family friend. 
  • Establish a Birthday-Eve Dinner. Each year, the night before their birthday, plan a special dinner. (It’s never too late to start!) Use this time to teach them that with privilege comes responsibility. Consider finding one or two things turning another year older will allow them to do – a privilege. Then, together, decide on one or two new responsibilities. 
  • Remind your young adult to reach out to people in different careers. Let them learn about what their daily lives are like and what other career paths are available. 
  • Help them find a philanthropic endeavor. This can allow them to experience the joy of giving and foster an understanding of the needs of others. Giving helps instill family values and allows younger family members to experience leadership through giving. 

As your high school student graduates, memories will come rushing back about your child and the amazing, beautiful human they are — the things they did that make you so proud, the lessons they learned along the way, and the obstacles they overcame to get to this point. Take it all in, celebrate, shower them with love, and take the time to talk about the next phase in life. Let them know that even if they think they don’t need you, you’ll always be there for them. 

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