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Setting your high school graduate up for success in life

Unsplash/Charles DeLoye
Unsplash/Charles DeLoye

In a few weeks, my firstborn son will walk across a stage. The same stage where he nervously shook handbells in the second grade Christmas pageant. The same stage where he reluctantly played one of Snow White’s dwarves in sixth grade. The same stage where he humbly strummed guitar for worship band in eleventh grade.

But this time, it will be the end of 12 grade. This time, he’ll be wearing a navy blue cap and gown. This time, he’ll be filled with nothing but excitement. Because this time, he’ll be graduating.

As I type this, the tears in my eyes and the knot in my throat make me keenly aware of how not ready I am for this to happen. But my readiness doesn’t matter, really. It’s his readiness that I need to focus on right now.

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At each new stage, parents try to set their kids up for success as much as possible. We research the pros and cons of preschool. We pack the healthy lunches for elementary school. We buy the recommended gear for sports. We stay up late to listen and gently guide our teens through each social hurdle they face. And of course, at each stage, we pray, and we pray, and we pray some more.

And now, just like that, it’s the last stage. The stage where they become adults. The stage where we have to let go so they can fly.

So, one last time, let’s do what we do best. Let’s set them up for success. Let’s launch them well, and then smile through the tears as we watch them soar.   

Launching well vocationally

At this point, your senior has probably taken all the college or trade school tours, if education is their path after graduation. They may be waiting on funding or other details, but they probably have an idea of what’s next.

But what about what’s after the next step? Many seniors are so caught up in applications and deadlines and finals (not to mention prom and last games and senior trips), that there’s little thought given to end goals.

I’m certainly not suggesting that 18-year-olds need to have their lives all figured out. Up to 50% of freshmen go into college with their major undecided, and around one third of students change their major at some point, so it’s not uncommon to change career paths.

Still, as parents, I think that we can do better than sorting all our seniors’ mail fliers (IYKYK) and helping with the financial aid forms. I think we can launch well vocationally in the following ways:

  • Point out giftings and preferences. Have a senior who loves helping with VBS? Maybe they have a gift for teaching kids. Does math homework always get done first? Could be an engineer in the making. Do they prefer hands-on over book learning? They might be happiest as a welder, hair stylist, or mechanic.
  • Empower exploratory conversations. My son had two potential career paths in mind: programming and finance. His university of choice has a higher acceptance rate if you declare a major upfront. So, to make a decision, he talked with a professional in each field asking questions about their day-to-day work post-college. Those conversations clarified which course of study would suit him best, at least for now. Help your senior network to find professionals in their fields of interest, and it may save them time and money down the road.

Launching well socially

Some seniors can’t wait to say “see ya” to high school, while others have a hard time saying goodbye. Either way, the next chapter of their lives will inevitably include social changes. We can help our newly-minted young adults navigate new social landscapes in the following ways:

  • Encourage maintained friendships. Around two-thirds of adult Americans say they have a friend they’ve known since childhood. Remind your senior of the importance of maintaining any current meaningful friendships. Encourage them to check in with “home” friends regularly and make time to get together during any future school breaks.
  • Identify potential social issues upfront. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy calls loneliness a nationwide epidemic, of particular concern on college campuses. Making friends in a new season is difficult for anyone, and rather than facing it, some students opt for isolation or favor online friendships where stakes are lower. Isolation and loneliness are linked to health problems like heart disease, stroke, dementia, and others. Talk with your teen upfront about these tendencies and risks. 
  • Brainstorm possible social outlets. Again, making friends post-high school is going to look different than buddying up to your locker neighbor or lab partner. Your teen may need a few social outlet ideas to get the find-new-friends ball rolling. You could start by casually chatting about young adults’ church groups, campus ministries, intramural sports, and other social outlets that might help your child find “their people.”

Launching well financially

Becoming an adult means becoming responsible with money. Is your teen prepared to steward their God-given financial resources well? Launch them well in the following areas:

  • Set up a budget. Remind your teen about the principle of tithing first, then work through their expected income and expenses on a monthly basis. This is especially important if your new adult will only be working in the summer and will need to make their money last all school year. Make sure they understand how to monitor their bank account and track their spending online. If they’re earning money throughout the year, encourage them to set aside a portion for long-term savings. 
  • Teach savvy shopping. Show your young adult how to maximize their budget with comparative shopping (looking at per-unit pricing), coupons, and other store deals. Help them sign up for rewards at their favorite food places to make their money go further.   
  • Talk about credit. As soon as they set foot on campus, your bright-eyed adult will be bombarded with credit card offers. You know your child. Are they ready to use credit responsibly? Can they stick to their budget, not overspend, and pay the total balance on time? If so, maybe it’s okay to start building a good credit report for the future. If not, advise them to avoid those flashy credit card tables — no matter how good the free swag looks!   

Launching well spiritually

For many, the transition into adulthood will be the first time your child won’t be living consistently under your roof anymore. The spiritual oversight, accountability, and instruction that you’ve strived to provide won’t be present, at least not in the way that it was before. That’s why launching well spiritually is more important than anything else.

The Gospel Coalition reminds young adults that the devil is a roaring lion, prowling around seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). It’s worth reminding our children of this as well. Will that prowling lion see our kids as “fresh meat” when they leave the spiritual shelter of home? Or will their personal spiritual fortitude make him think twice about attacking? 

Our kids will inevitably face a spiritual battle as they launch into the world. Let’s help them be ready in the following ways:  

  • Make sure they know the Gospel. The Gospel is foundational for their own salvation first, of course, and it’s also important as they have conversations with others. When I went to college, I was 100% certain of my own salvation, but I wasn’t confident sharing the Gospel clearly with others. Equip them to own their faith fully and share it boldly. This resource from Cru can help.
  • Ensure they have the right tools. Do they have a study Bible and do they know how to use it? Do they have a plan for consistent prayer and Bible reading each day? If not, now might be the time to make suggestions that are appropriate for their level of spiritual growth. Some teens may benefit from a Bible or devotional app, one that offers daily reminders on their phone. Others may be ready for more in-depth study tools like cross-referencing software or original translation apps.
  • Encourage fellowship and accountability. Remind your new adult that we’re not meant to live the Christian life alone. For some, that means they’ll need to find a new church family and hopefully a small group of peers who can encourage their spiritual walk. Campus ministry groups like Cru, RUF, Intervarsity, Navigators, BCM, and others are a great way to find likeminded believers for fellowship, accountability, and growth in this new season.   


This is it, parents — the end of the era we have with our kids as kids. Don’t get me wrong; for decades to come, we will never stop loving and supporting our children. But this launch is different. We all know it. We all feel it in our hearts, a breaking sorrow and a bursting joy at the same time.   

So, like all the stages before, let’s set them up well for this final one.

The stage where they walk across the stage … into the next phase of their lives.

Melissa Richeson is a freelance writer and editor based in Central Florida. Her work has been featured in places like The Washington Post, Florida Today, Sunlight Press, BiggerPockets Wealth Magazine, WDW Magazine, and many other outlets. As a Medi-Share member, she shares regularly about her positive CCM experience over the past decade. Melissa can often be found in real life at the beach, or virtually on her freelance website.

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