Searching for direction

Senior year presents unique and sometimes overwhelming challenges for teens



It is difficult to convey to someone else exactly what is on one’s mind. And when asked to speak for an entire population of teenagers, that task is nearly impossible.

However, I am part of a specific subset of that population, and I realize we are united by a common thought. Or I could also say, a common worry, fear, and hope – the future.

“So, do you have any plans for college? What subjects are you interested in pursuing? What do you plan to make of your life?”

Any high school senior has been badgered with some version of these questions countless times by this point in his or her academic career. However, as we begin to fill out college applications and craft essays, arrange internships and travel, or procrastinate on plans, these small-talk icebreakers become a reality. For some, it is exciting. It is the time to pursue dreams, become independent, and embrace adulthood. We are entering the prime of our lives.

For others, it is a wake-up call. The time has come when we are expected to become productive members of society. We must return the investment made on our behalf by becoming self-sustaining and fulfilling civic duties.

Yet, with all the promise and exciting uncertainty the future brings, this time is also daunting. We are essentially told to use our first 17 or 18 years to steer us into our next 50. While any decisions made in the senior year of high school certainly do not cement the course of our lives, we are expected to begin to find our direction.

As I approach my senior fall, I know I want to go to college. I know I dream of the opportunity to travel independently, with people my age, and experience the rich diversity of the world. Based on my time in school, I know I want to study chemistry, because this is the subject that excites me most to learn. However, I don’t yet know which school will allow me to pursue this goal, as it depends on admissions and scholarships.

I don’t yet know what other interests I will develop as I grow older. I don’t yet know if this is the path my future self will follow. As a person who likes to know all the details, it is a scary time in the sense that is so uncertain. Yet, as a thrill-lover, the unpredictability excites me.

Not every teenager has the same aspirations as I do, but there are common threads among our visions. And, because being on the verge of adulthood is not unique to this generation, I know parents can relate to the cacophony of emotions teenagers are now experiencing.

My friends and I tease our parents that it used to be “much easier” to be accepted into great schools and to find summer jobs. And the fact is, most parents can certainly relate to that.

However, while having a parent understand the mixture of excitement and fear in embarking upon the future can be advantageous for a teenager if they wish to seek advice or help, it can also quickly become an obstacle.

I am lucky to have parents who I know have my best interests in mind. I am the oldest child in my family, so I am the guinea pig. As I plan for my years after college, my parents and I have begun to partake in a balancing act. I take comfort in them being my safety net, yet at the same time, I’m the one that needs to walk the tightrope. I have to prove to them that I can advocate for myself, and they are still learning to trust me to do so.

My parents thankfully allow me to pursue my own path, but I know friends who have begun to feel they are in a battle for control of their future. As teenagers enter adulthood, parents need to accept their independence and support the passions their children wish to follow.

While parents may feel that they are only trying to protect their child, it is inevitable that we will make mistakes. But it is our turn to take those missteps, and our time to learn while moving forward. The opinions of our parents will always matter, but it is my hope parents use their support to push us toward our dreams. 

Maddy Buffett will be a senior this fall at St. Paul’s School. She looks forward to continuing to serve as an editor for the school newspaper and write for the St. Paul’s School website. Maddy also enjoys playing basketball for the Big Red, and debating on Sundays against other schools in New England.

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