When my teen graduated from high school, I had no idea what to say. I loved her, I was proud of her, I was terrified over the college-antics she might get into, and I was lonely already, just thinking about her being gone.

I knew I had to have a talk with her at some point, but I wasn’t sure what to tell her, how to tell her, or in what order. The summer rushed by and I felt awkward and unprepared. I wish I’d had a checklist of college dos and don’ts or worldly advice to give her, at the very least.

If you’re caught up in the festival of summer graduation parties, and your teen is headed into their senior year, you’re probably already getting a lump in your throat. Don’t make the same mistakes I did and dive into your kids’ graduation year unprepared. Instead, take a few notes and start meditating on the things you’d like to say, so when the time comes you’ll be ready for a proper send-off.

Here’s what I ended up telling my daughter, and I’m very glad I did.

I’m proud of you.  

In the mess of life, especially high school life, it was hard to just slow down and have a conversation. Like most, my daughter and I had the typical teenage meltdowns and stubborn parent scenarios, and one night, two weeks before she left for college, I suddenly felt every hair stand on end. Did she know I was proud of her? I was so proud of her, that I had canvas printing made of her photography — a decision I relish every time I walk down the hallway. Now, whenever she visits, she’ll see just how proud I truly am.

Don’t be afraid to try new things.

When I went to college, the pressure was on from my parents. In fact, I spent two semesters as a law student, even though it made me miserable. Fortunately, I decided to stand up for myself and swapped careers. But my daughter’s graduation made me worry. Had I made things clear to her? That she was allowed to choose her own road? Did she know she could look into any degree she wanted, even automotive & diesel technology degrees? Did she know she didn’t have to go to college at all? I needed to make sure my daughter knew that these decisions were hers to make and that I would love her no matter what.

Be patient.  

When I was in high school, I assumed all adults had it all together all the time. That they finally reached a point of clarity and knew exactly what they were doing and why.  While I hated to disillusion my daughter about the ease of adult life, I knew she needed to know — she didn’t need to have it all together, because she never would. She just needed to do her best.

Parenting a teen can be among the rockiest experiences of you life–I know that firsthand! In the midst of all the chaos and the high school drama, try to find time to slow down. If you can take just one minute everyday to tell your teen you’re proud of them, that they’re free to be their own person, and that they won’t ever have it all together, it makes a difference. These are life lessons I wish my parents had passed on to me, and I understand now why they didn’t. It can be hard to slow down enough! But for you and your teen, a few short conversations can make all the difference.

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