Tell me more: 8 questions to ask your high school senior

Kara Powell Image Kara Powell | Sep 10, 2019

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Two round trip plane tickets for me and my husband, Dave. Plus a one-way plane ticket for our son, Nathan.

It was the first time we were taking one of our kids to college. Also the first time I had purchased a one-way ticket for a child who wasn’t coming back with us.

When your child is about to finish high school, enter the military, or join the workforce, it’s easy to be aware of the lasts.

Their last before-school breakfast at home.

Their last high school youth group meeting.

The last permission slip you have to sign (there was much rejoicing in our kitchen over this one!).

As Nathan transitioned from high school to college, Dave and I were determined to be mindful of—and savor—those important lasts.

But we didn't want our focus on the lasts to make us forget about the firsts.

Like that first one-way airplane ticket we’d be purchasing when we drop him off his freshman year.

Or the first time we went to the polls and voted with him.

Or the first time we talked about the type of relationships we wanted to have as a family after he moved out.

Based on our studies of both young people and their amazing parents, I’ve learned how important it is to have this “DTR” (or “Define the Relationship”) talk with your own child before your family moves to a next stage. It’s a great opportunity to practice what Steve Argue and I call “Growing With parenting” as you discuss questions like:

What do we like about how we’re currently communicating?

What do you wish was different?

How can we best stay in touch in this next phase?

How—and how often—do you want me to communicate with you?

This heart-to-heart about our own relationship was one of a series of conversations we had with our son throughout his senior year of high school. Some of these discussions were scheduled; we planned ahead of time to meet and I knew what we were going to talk about. Others were spontaneous; Nathan started talking about whether he should get a credit card, which opened up a bigger window to talk about financial responsibility and the support he needed from us. To maximize both the scheduled and spontaneous conversations, I kept a list of the questions I felt were essential to discuss before he moved out.

To save you time, here are my 8 top questions I hope you ask your high school senior sometime this year. This might be the first time you've raised these conversation topics with your child or stepchild, and that’s okay. The last year of high school is a natural opportunity to restart and revise your communication rhythms.

1. What sort of future career, training, and/or college major are you envisioning for yourself these days?
2. What help—if any—do you want now that you are more responsible for your calendar, finances, medical care, laundry, food, and other daily logistics?
3. What sorts of friends do you hope to make in this next season, and how (and where and when) do you think you can best develop those friendships?
4. What do you think you want to look for in a church or on-campus fellowship group once you’ve graduated from youth group?
5. What are some ways you hope your connection with God will grow in this next chapter? What kinds of things do you think you’ll do to further than connection from week to week?
6. How do you hope to serve others, and be salt and light, in this next season?
7. What sort of communication rhythms would you like to have with me and your other family members when you’re living away from home?
8. What adult can you call or text—other than me—when you are struggling, feel like you’ve failed, or need to talk about a challenge you’re facing?

Tweet: As your child moves out, don’t let your focus on the lasts make you forget about the firsts. Here are 8 questions to ask your high school senior.

If you only have time for one question, make it the last one. The best gift you can give your son or daughter as they transition out of high school is a caring adult who can be a safety net for them not if—but when—they stumble and fall.

Beyond those 8 questions, what other questions do you plan to, or have you already, discussed with your graduating senior this year?

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Kara Powell Image
Kara Powell

Kara Powell, PhD, is the chief of leadership formation and executive director of the Fuller Youth Institute (FYI) at Fuller Theological Seminary. Named by Christianity Today as one of "50 Women to Watch," Kara serves as a youth and family strategist for Orange and speaks regularly at parenting and leadership conferences. Kara has authored or coauthored numerous books, including Faith Beyond Youth Group, 3 Big Questions That Shape Your Future, 3 Big Questions That Change Every Teenager, Growing With, Growing Young, The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family and the entire Sticky Faith series. Kara and her husband, Dave, are regularly inspired by the learning and laughter that comes from their three teenage and young adult children.

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