Junior Year Stress – A Talk with David Unger

PARENT TO PARENT

NEW: Junior Year Stress – A Talk with David Unger

This article is the first in a series of articles on dealing with Junior year stress. The next will focus on the college counseling process.
By Jennifer DeVore and Christine Torre, co-chairs of the Parent Guild communications committee and parents of juniors.

I know I’m not alone in feeling parental stress this year. My twin boys are in 11th grade, and it seems everyone around us is pointing out how important this year is and how stressful it will be.  As parents, we want to help our kids manage this stress and keep the lines of communication with them open without adding to the stress they already feel.  At Windward, we are incredibly fortunate to have David Unger, Upper School Director of Counseling Services, on our junior year team.  To help us get a handle on our own anxiety about our kids making big life choices, we paid him a visit. David has been through the college application process both as a parent and as a counselor, and he shared some insights with us:
  • Contrary to popular opinion, the junior year in high school is NOT the hardest year of your 11th grader’s life. Every year builds on the one before. Just as they have at the start of prior school years, your kids have a solid foundation for the challenges ahead this year.  Have confidence in them.
  • Kids and parents alike have bought into the myth that you have to go to the most competitive top-tier school to have a successful life. Look around: many successful adults have taken circuitous routes to get where they are. Taking the long view can help reduce the immediate anxiety for both you and your child.
  • It may seem trite, but kids need to follow their passions, hone their interests and develop mastery in a certain area.  They will be happier if they are doing what they love ten years from now. So encourage them to figure out what they love – even if it’s outside of your comfort zone – and support them as they pursue it.  They might change their minds a few times along the way and that’s ok.
  • Show your kids that you believe in their abilities to make good choices.  Part of their job description in high school is to separate from you and learn how to manage independently. This means we need to let go and trust that they are able– on balance – to figure out their own paths.  Let your kids make mistakes while they are still at home with you and in a school community where they have the support and guidance to survive the consequences and get back on track.
  • A lot of the stress we are feeling as 11th grade parents comes from a perceived lack of control over our kids’ lives. But they must learn how to think and act responsibly for themselves before they leave us for college.  Now is the time, as David says, for parents to move from being our kids’ managers to being their consultants.  Micromanaging your child’s college application process is a formula for failure for both of you. 
Please know that David, Roger and Gail are always available to parents if they want to talk about individual concerns or would like help creating an action plan.
We would love to collect other parents’ ideas about the challenges of managing junior year stress and other growing pains. Join the conversation by sharing your thoughts below. 

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Windward School is a 7-12, co-educational, independent day school in Los Angeles, California.