Congratulations to you and your son or daughter on his/her high school graduation. This is a critical juncture for both students and parents and so we celebrate with much pomp and circumstance. Apparently we have Shakespeare to thank for this term, which describes the ‘great display of ceremonial grandeur and ornate formality associated with a particular event.’ [The Word Detective. http://www.word-detective.com/2010/11/pomp-and-circumstance/]
Having just attended our last child’s graduation, we certainly felt plenty of pomp and circumstance. The students walked in with caps and gowns to the beat of a somber march after the parade of teachers donning their degree level/college color sashes, black gowns and various types of headdresses. The ceremony lasted several hours — as expected. The speeches ranged from sounding moderately eloquent and inspirational to pandering and unremarkable. After a while, the speeches began to blend into the next, making it difficult to remember who said what. However, one comment stands out in my mind: “the kids are all right.” Immediately I wondered if the speaker believed his own statement. If he did, why did he use that tone? And did he mean all the kids, some of the kids, or a few of the kids? After the graduation, our daughter Kyra complained about a stench coming from the fellow student sitting next to her in the auditorium; he reeked of pot and sweat, and was obviously high. He obviously isn’t all right.
And so most of us know that many kids are not all right; but whose? If our kids are not all right, consider that some of it may be our own fault if/when we allowed ourselves to become too busy, too distracted, too disengaged, too tolerant, too non-judgmental, too detached to help our students know right and wrong, securely. Students’ personal choices, peer influences, and going all the wrong directions certainly makes parenting hard; but do these circumstances and situations make it too late to parent? No, it just means we have an even larger role in the rescue of our son or daughter from evil.
So, ask yourselves these little questions: ‘Is your son or daughter all right’? What/how do you figure out if your student is all right? What does all right even mean? How does a parent accurately assess a child’s maturity? Do we compare them with friends or classroom peers? How do we know if the comparison is realistic and/or age appropriate? How do we assess one’s emotional, psychological, social, and spiritual wellness?
Today’s high school students seem ten times more sophisticated than my graduating class; but is it just opinion? Recent studies suggest that today’s adolescents (The CDC defines adolescence as ages between 13-24) appear to be more sophisticated than previous generations of teens but it’s not genuine. Yet parents and other adults are duped into thinking that their 18-year-old, for instance, really has it all together and will be able to handle whatever is thrown at him/her — when that really isn’t the case. They still need their parents’ instruction, advice, counsel and consequences — tailored to their maturity level, of course. And so, parents’ biggest challenge today is to realistically assess a son or and daughter’s maturity and overall wellness and then decide what type of accountability and oversight is still necessary. Then it is up to us, the parents, to determine what opportunities and lessons and encouragement to provide so that our young people continue to learn, explore, avoid things that cause harm, and make appropriate decision for their ages. We have to ask if our student is all right even when caught up in the pomp and circumstance of graduation and future plans. We can’t let ourselves be duped by their pseudo-sophisticated exteriors; that will not serve anyone very well.
So, what are the options? If you don’t think your graduate is well, what can you do to help him/her change course — today? If unclear about his/her well-being, perhaps you could pursue some professional advice. But there is plenty to do by you. Assess your student by getting to know them! Talk about the burning issues of the day; study how they argue for and/or against something. Are they thinking for themselves or spouting canned arguments? How well do they make personal choices? Are they able to predict consequences — good and bad — for choices made? Do they have all the answers or are they willing to admit concerns or questions about some things? How well do they answer your questions? How well do they ask questions? Can they name their strengths and weaknesses? Have they ever designed battle plans to fight off personal temptations and weaknesses? [www.fortifyingfamiliesoffaith.com has the necessary worksheets] How well do they handle these discussions with you; if they refuse to discuss things with you, you should assume that all is not right with them.
If your son or daughter is all right, that is great news. Help them stay all right; your job is not over yet. Discuss ways to stay accountable to you, God, family members, friends, and other important persons in their lives. Help them set reasonable social, physical, emotional, spiritual, economic, academic, and psychological goals for the next academic year.
What proof is there that a student is all right? Do their athletic, academic, debate and drama, musical or other achievement awards prove their overall wellness? At Kyra’s graduation, it’s easy to recall one mother’s enthusiastic response to her daughter’s baccalaureate speech. The mother fairly jumped out of her seat and whooped “that’s my baby, everyone. That’s my baby girl,” as the student approached the podium. Clearly she thinks her daughter is all right and proudly announced it to everyone around her. Side glances from nearby parents seemed to question whether the mother was all right but it was just obvious that she was a proud mama bear. I worried that the daughter’s speech would end up embarrassing the mother; however, that fear stemmed from a much earlier experience in which a son of ours gave a meandering, off-the-cuff speech that was — yep — embarrassing for him and us. The mom seemed to approve of her daughter’s points that were edgy and political; she seemed to argue that a more–perfectly social justice can be attained if we just keep morality out of the debates. Not once did she give thanks to the Creator for her many gifts — namely life. But she did thank her classmates, teachers and finally parents for getting her to graduation. (curious order) I couldn’t help but wonder how many graduating students know who God is. And then I wondered who is to blame for that? Venerable Fulton Sheen warns parents this way: “When a child is given to his/her parents, a crown is made for that child in Heaven, and woe to the parents who raise a child without consciousness of that eternal crown.”
That’s why this letter is written to you, the parents of high school graduates. How well have you raised your child’s consciousness of his/her eternal crown? Yes, of course, we should want our graduates to become successful scientists, politicians, lawyers, doctors, electricians, mechanics, teachers, etc. But those achievements only partially develop someone. What about a person’s spiritual well-being? What about their social, emotional, and physical well-being? Parents are the first educator of their children in matters of faith and morality. If the child isn’t educated in these matters, they will have great difficulty fighting off the heavy influences that try to distract all of us from having any real appreciation of God, Heaven, Father and Truth.
It is easy to lose sight of the final destiny if it isn’t instilled in the first place. It’s hard enough to keep it in sight even after being instilled with the truth. And so parents, upon hearing and seeing their graduates excitement, willingness and eagerness to jump into whatever the future holds, should beware that all may not be all right with their students. It is our job to continue influencing and developing the whole child so they are up to the challenges that lie ahead — including the challenge of staying faithful to the Creator who ushered them into this life. The future may not be very kind to those high school graduates who jump into the future unprepared, lacking in personal confidence, exuding a false persona, and failing to understand their ultimate purpose of life.
While this may seem to you to be the wrong time to warn about these matters especially while you are still celebrating your son or daughter’s graduation and personal successes, perhaps this is the best time to raise your consciousness of the short amount of time you have left with your graduate! It’s highly likely you are pondering their futures without you. And it is wise to wonder if you have raised your son or daughter’s consciousness of the crown that awaits them if they want it.
Years ago, a Director of Religious Education asked where we intended to send our son to high school. He also said: “what does it matter if he conquers the world but loses his soul in the process?” How did we do? Looking back, we could have done better, that’s for sure. But we gave it our best shot, and I believe that’s all that God asks. He doesn’t ask us to be perfect parents because we can’t be. Neither will our children be perfect. But we have to teach the truth without fear or compromise. While still works in progress, our children are successful by ordinary standards; but it’s the non-ordinary standards (the supernatural) that will really matter to all of us in the long run.
We have met and observed many young people over the last 18 years (Our oldest son was 18 years old when our youngest daughter was born). I have to admit concern for many of these young people. They don’t seem adequately prepared and for different reasons. They seem different from the generation preceding them. Differences are not bad unless they are quantifiable and negative and recent data suggests both. What’s different?
Today’s incoming college freshman display more narcissistic tendencies than did their previous classes over the past ten years. They claim more volunteer hours but admit the reason is to get into highly completive colleges — not because they are altruistic by nature. On top of that, recent graduates value individualism, moral relativism, and sexual freedom — all of which are incompatible with loving as God loves. Many are materialistic while feeling entitled to things they can’t afford. They openly ridicule religion and black and white moral principles. They display less humility, honesty, and personal integrity. They are highly self-focused. They are less eager to marry and/or settle down. Few desire to have children unless it’s convenient and in the distant future. They have trouble graduating from college within a four year time span — in fact, less than 36% of college students graduate from college within four years. The graduation rate rises to 58% if they remain in college for at least six years. This means that a full 42% never graduate at all. [Linda Kracht. Surviving College. 17] Consider this, most college students have fewer daily obligations and personal commitments than their siblings back home who still have to answer to teachers, parents, siblings, team mates and even employers. On any given day, the college student spends 3-4 hours/day in class; the rest of the time is theirs to do as they wish. Is this even close to real life?
College life has many ups and downs that students are often not prepared to handle. Consider this example. College is very expensive; yet students are encouraged to live beyond their means by parents, administrations, and loan agencies alike. Recently, a young woman attending a political caucus asked attendees to pass a resolution forgiving college debts for all students who graduate from college. She complained that she recently graduated from college with over $75,000 in debt, yet her teaching job barely pays the rent, food, health insurance, car payment and other living expenses. She has no money left over to pay her $600/mo student loan bill (assuming 6.8% interest and a 10-year repayment plan). She is very concerned about finances but went on to blame her parents and others for helping her rack up that amount of debt. Her example is not that extraordinary; it is simply one more case of living beyond one’s personal means while forgoing examinations about the consequences.
College students’ personal obligations include attending classes, studying, behaving, thinking, meeting goals, etc. But accountability systems for any and all of the above are lacking for most students. Who do they answer to besides themselves? And therein lies the rub. Eons ago, Socrates understood that an unexamined life is not worth living. This could explain why college living is linked to high numbers of personal failure including the failure to graduate, flunking out, cheating, heavy substance abuse, sexual violence, depression, attempted and final suicide, shame and self doubt. Psalm 71 shows us the way to avoid personal failures. We have to cry out and meant when we ask the Lord: “In you O Lord I take refuge; let me never be put to shame.”
This is the purpose of this letter to you. There is still a lot to do even though your student has graduated. Remind yourself that your job as a parent is not over. Teach Psalm 71 to your student. Encourage, talk, set up accountability systems, pray, sacrifice for their sakes and parent against the tides.
Read Surviving College: Laying the Foundations for a Moral Life by Linda Kracht with your student. This will help kick-start meaty discussions. In the end, it will not have mattered if our kids gain tremendous personal wealth, recognition, and status here and now but lose their desire for the crown and the Maker of that crown.
This is my prayer for you:
May God Bless your graduates
May He keep them safe and sound; healthy in mind and soul
May they be ever aware of the awaiting crown as they navigate life
May they grow closer to God in and through their upcoming experiences
May they grow closer to their loved ones in and through their experiences
May God bless us, the parents, as we watch our children jump
May God keep them free of shame and us free of worry.
Copyright 2016 Linda Kracht