At the end of May, my twin sons graduated from high school. The next day most of their classmates headed to Ocean City, Maryland for so-called senior week. When Natalie Holloway disappeared in Aruba five years ago while on a senior week trip, I wondered how parents could let their children go on such trips. I was sure I would never let my kids do such a thing. By the time my sons were seniors, I was not so sure.
Sometime in April, my sons told me they were thinking of going to senior week. I tried to wrap my mind around the concept. Where were the kids going, who was going, how were they going to get there? Most of their classmates were going to Ocean City, Maryland. They were renting houses. Kids were driving themselves. Were boys and girls staying together in houses? Well, yes. How many to a house? About twenty.
I know what happens at senior week. I know about the drinking, the sex, the illegal drug use. I asked around and quickly learned that most parents know what goes on at senior week to one degree or another. My friends were letting their kids participate anyway. They reasoned that their children were adults now and were going to college in the fall where all of this stuff takes place anyway. They had done their best to teach their kids to make good decisions and hoped they would do so during the week.
Why do parents always assume their kids won’t be the ones to get into trouble? Most kids misbehave during senior week. That’s why they go! Yet when the time came, I didn’t want to tell my 18-year-old sons they couldn’t go. I knew they shouldn’t, but I wanted them to reach that conclusion on their own. So I explained to them what takes place at senior week, and I asked them why they would want to be a part of that. Given the fact that they don’t engage in such behavior, why would they find it fun? They always came to the same conclusion: their friends would be there and they would feel left out.
They debated going up until the day most of their friends left. For an awhile, they were leaning toward making the trip. My husband and I were not supportive of the idea. We told them we wouldn’t pay for it, which was a factor in their decision. But at the end of the figurative and literal day, they concluded they didn’t want to be a part of what was going to occur in Ocean City. They kept in touch with friends through texting and phone calls. Even they were shocked by the behavior of their classmates. By the second day of senior week, they were happy they didn’t go.
Why do we parents even think about letting our kids do such things? Obviously some parents are unconcerned about such behavior. We all know parents who allow teenagers to party in their homes. But I think most parents let their children engage in such activities because they don’t want them to feel left out. We helicopter parents do care about our kids, and we carefully monitor what they do. If anything, we are overly involved in their emotional lives. We don’t want them to feel socially isolated. We have spent years protecting their feelings and smoothing their way in life.
Not going along with the ways of the world has always been difficult. That is why St. Paul exhorts the Romans, “Do not be conformed to this world, but transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” [Romans 12:2]. Christians live in the world and for the world, but are not fully of the world. “Do not love the world or the things of the world” [1 John 2:15]. Living as Christians inevitably leads to some rejection. Part of our role as parents is to teach our children this painful lesson. The sooner we start the better. Then they won’t be stunned when they can’t go to senior week. Paradoxically, only by suffering rejection can Christians become the light of the world.
Parents push their kids athletically and academically, but I rarely see them forcing or even encouraging their children to make tough moral decisions. I don’t blame the parents who let their children go to senior week. I don’t know what I would have done if my sons would have insisted. Probably have let them go. And it would have been a mistake. They have suffered no lasting social consequences for not having gone. In fact, several of their friends told them they made the right decision. Hopefully this experience will help prepare them for the sense of isolation they may sometimes experience in college.
I have a daughter who is two years younger than her brothers. She will want to go to senior week. The answer will be no.