16 answers

18 Year Old High School Senior - Keeping Them Motivated to Graduate!

I have five stepchildren ages 12 to almost 18 and one daughter of my own, age 17. The oldest are twin boys who will be 18 on the 10th of February. They live with my husband and myself, along with my daughter. The younger three live with their mom about an hour away. The twins came to live with us just at the start of the school year, because their mom couldnt handle them any more. They are very sure of themselves, and have their own ideas about how they should be able to live their life, come and go as they please, etc. We are not super strict and have fairly simple rules: respect others in the home, clean up your own messes, and be home by curfew are the main ones. We both work full time (or more!) a half hour away from our hometown.
My question is this: I have several friends with kids who have turned 18 in the middle of their senior year and once they hit that magic age, they really start chafing at restrictions and end up quitting school. These two arent the best scholars, but do ok if they apply themselves. One is more focused than the other. How do I encourage/motivate/bribe them to stay in school till graduation and continue being a member of our family? Because when they act up, I am inclined to tell them to pack it up and find their own way. It is very important to my husband to get them across the goal line and I am doing my best to support this vision, but if they kids themselves dont care or arent willing to work for it... then what?? What worked for you? Any advice on maintaining peace in our household and still getting them to do what we require? They have already informed us that once they turn 18, they dont actually have to go to their last half of the day which is elective classes. I can see this quickly becoming a situation of "Well, I didnt feel like getting up today, so I stayed home." (We often carpool to work together and the kids are on their own in the house getting ready and off to school.) My daughter drives and is the chaeffeuer (sp) and is more apt to act like a parent, nagging them to get up, get ready, lets go, etc. They HATE hearing this from her and then they all are up in arms and it becomes a stressful morning for all. We have told her NOT to mother them, let them be in control of their morning routine and when she is ready to go at the usual time, to state that she is leaving and then LEAVE. If they arent ready, they will walk to school and deal with it. So many dynamics at play here, hoping someone who has been through this may have some words of wisdom to pass on.... Thanks!

What can I do next?

So What Happened?™

Well a year later.... one twin graduated with a state diploma, the other one - none at all. My daughter is a senior this year and is borderline with her credits as to whether she gets a state or high school diploma. She insists she is graduating with her class. We will soon see. Now we have our almost 15 year old son living with us. He is a freshman. We put him into school in the town where we work, so as to avoid the problems with the parentless house during the day. New challenges with that, but it is working so far. Hopefully, by getting ahold of him as a freshman we can have better success, versus trying to save it all in his senior year like the twins. I do appreciate the advice I recieved from everyone on this original question. Thank you!

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I had an 18 year old and always let him make the choices. If he did not finish school that was fine with me he is an "adult" is what he likes to say so if he did not finish school he would have to leave the house. He would say "are you kicking me out" and i would tell him that he is choosing to leave by not following the rules. tehy want to feel in control so let them think it while you really are. Good luck!

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I agree with your statement about your daughter leaving for school when she is ready to go, and letting the others fend for themselves. As far as a motivator, ask your kids how they will feel on graduation day if they are not graduating with their class? If they drop out now, they don't get to participate in any of the graduation activities. My daughter dropped out for almost 2 years of high school (her freshman and sophomore years). Her junior year she finally got it together and did Independent Study. During her senior year, she took 9 classes in order to graduate on time. She told me that she didn't like seeing her friends being able to go out and have fun while she was studying, but she brought this upon herself.

Ultimately, it comes down to personal responsibility. If your stepsons want to attend college, they will want letters of recommendation from their high school teachers. Something you might mention is, "You've come this far. Do you really want to blow it the last 6 months of high school?" I taught both high school and college, and home-schooled my daughter. 18 is a very difficult age, but they grow out of it, thank God. She will be 21 on Feb 13th, so we went through a similar situation. It's part of growing up and not being exactly an adult yet. Due to her "flaking out" during high school, she is taking additional classes at a community college. You might offer that as an incentive to your stepsons. Perhaps they could take a college class in lieu of some of these high school electives. Perhaps they are bored and don't feel challenged enough. If they don't have transportation, they could take online classes.

My advice is to hang in there, and this too shall pass. Good luck to you and God bless you.

2 moms found this helpful

T. -
This is a terribly difficul situation. Once they see themselves as independent/over 18, it is almost impossible to put the "genie" back in the bottle.

Because you truly can't MAKE them, I would stress two things:
1. You are either in school or you are working/on your own/living on your own.

MAKE THEM realize that school is their job or else they need to go out, get a full time job and MOVE OUT.

Of course it is super easy to live at home and have NO adult responsibilities. But if they are saying "I'm 18 and I'm an adult, then give them two adult choices: Choose school or choose work. One comes with our support of free rent; the other, requires full emancipation.

this is not MEAN because you are not "throwing them out" but are giving them two choices - one to be a student, the other to live on their own. But what you won't accept is just living at home, being indulged, and not living up to either the responsibiilities of being a student nor of being a grown up economically.

The other thing is to keep making them seeing this as their choice: Have them talk to other adults/school counselors/an uncle/an advisor at PCC to let them think about college choices....to answer the question: "Do I want to be IN school and graduate or quit school and go to work?" Each of these boys needs to see it as a CHOICE point they are making. Dont make it so easy for them to choose just doing basically nothing.

You can't exactly motivate them to want to do something hard. So you should focus on the adult decision they have before them. What choice do YOU want to make for your life?

They may not both make the same choice. Right now, they are riding on what is natural for teens, the feeling of the "herd"...that they should be able to coast and live at home if other kids their age/tribe have gotten away with it.

Its such a dilemna for parents. Just make them make a conscious choice. If they skip school, tell them you expect to see them making job applications the next day and getting ready to move out. Have them sleep in their car for a night. This is only dangerous if they have friends with delinquent parents who will let them come live with them and do nothing at someone elses house.

Also: really encourage them that they CAN do this difficult homework and stuff. Get a tutor to sit down with them to do the assignments they think are too hard.Make them do homework with you for one hour every night, no matterw what. If they say it is all done, make them do extra.
It is worth it if you can get them both graduated.

So try to give carrots/rewards and also sticks to keep them in school. Keep trying to emphasize what will happen if they don't finish/don't graduate? What will their choices be in 5 short months? At that point, they have to either get a job or continue school and if they haven't graduated, what school can they get into?

Good luck.

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You certainly have your hands full. I used to be a high school teacher and turning 18 is a big milestone to any kid. In regards to leaving school early, you difinately need to talk to the school about it. Many schools have rules about why you can leave, even if you are 18 (a part-time job, taking a college class, etc.) Get that information ASAP. Even if there are not, you should set up some guidelines for when this happens. Even though teenagers want to be grown up and be on there own, they do want to know someone is looking out for them. The most important thing to remember is to try not to get into a "power play" with anyone. There no one wins. I know this isn't much, but I hope it helps.

M. P

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I recieved a lot of help and various ideas thru this listing. Just exploring your options helps. A little "tough love" helped our situation with our 19 yr old living at home. There are certain rules that are non-negotiable. You decide those. In our family, it was chores, cerfews, and school or job. Free-loafing not allowed. When my son tried to test the strength of our convictions he was given a choice. He chose to leave. But he left without cell phone, car, money, etc. He stayed with friends for a couple weeks, but that soon lost it's novelty as the taste of the real-world sank in. I made it clear to him he was welcome back at any time, but the rules were non-negotiable. He is now home and in school, pulling his own weight with a new attitude and appreciation of the "perks" of family life. I will say that I am sure that those 2 weeks were harder on me than on him. I did keep tabs on him thru his sibblings and his friends. And totally questioned if I did the right thing, but in my gut I knew it was right. There is no lesson like first hand experience. Best wishes.

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I do not envy your position. My sister's oldest were thinking they were able to handle the same issues...they wouldn't get up, take care of themselves, or get work. Both are now drop-outs.

When I was growing up we always had a rule. School was our job...if we didn't want to do that, then we were to work or finish enough school (high school) to join the military. The rest was up to us...I have my MBA, my brother has a PhD, and our sister is a drop-out...

whatever is decided, you and your spouse need to support the rule and enforce it to the best. Try not to make your oldest girl the mommy figure. She will resent it and eventually your relationship will suffer. Maybe the boys should get parttime jobs and start paying rent or part of the utilities...give them a taste of what they will get on their own.

Good luck and God Bless,

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I haven't raised teenagers, but a couple ideas that might help?

1. Let them know that after graduation that will need to pay rent starting on x-date if they aren't going to college. Make sure they know that if they'll also want spending $$, they'll have a much easier time if they have their diploma.

2. Give them an incentive to graduate such as a trip, car, $$, something they've been wanting.

3. Make absolute certain that you're not favoring your daughter over your step-sons. I'm not accusing you of that, but making sure you offer the same support for all your children is best. Your step-sons might feel unwanted after leaving their moms and feel like they're just getting bounced around.

4. Check about them seeing their guidance counselor or academic counselor at school. They may not want to, but it may be another bargaining tool for you that if they keep going to class and keep their grades reasonable then they don't have to see the counselor etc.

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Hello, Well I have not gotten to that point with my children yet but I can tell you how my mother handled me when I was that age and opting to drop out of school and trying to get my GED instead and get a 2 year FREE college Education. My mother had raised 5 kisd before me and i was the sixth, she sat me down and told me that there was no greater gratification then to finish and graduate High School. I was trying to grow up to fast and didn't think that she knew what she was taking about. She also said that in this day and age which was 15 years ago that it is almost impossible to find a job without that Diploma. I was so glad that I did graduate and at the time I felt that I was just doing it for my Mother but after I finally realized I did it for myself and my future. 3 Years after I guaduated my mother passed away and let me tell you that I am so glad that I listened while I had the chance. It's hard for teenagers to listen but sit them down ad talk to them rationally and tell them that they are so lucky to have caring parents that are still living cause being young we usually take things for granted and you never know what will happen so just encourage them to go forward and finish High School and if they want to take a lazy year off before college that will be the time to explore a little. Your senior year is packed full of great memories that they will get to pass on to there children. I was also lucky to have parents that trusted me and that were not to strict so I really got to enjoy my last year of high school. Please let them read this so that they can understand that the parents we usually take for granted won't always be there to talk with or to even dis-obey!! It is really hard to lose a parent at that age. We always think we don't really need much help or advice at that age but we need it way more than we think. I no longer have the priveledge to call my momma and ask her her advise. So once again tell them they don't have much longer left and to just finish this last year. After all they are the leaders of the school so tell them to take advantage. Sorry if I rambled on and on but I miss my mother terribly and I am glad that I did that last thing she asked me to do for her which was graduate HIGH SCHOOL!!

J. W.

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Do your step-sons have part-time jobs? Usually, the jobs kids can get while still in high school are not "fun" jobs. Fast food places, grocery stores, gas stations and similar service places tend to hire high school students. Besides providing income, they often can serve as a motivator. If the job is not something the kid really wants to continue doing, they can see a reason for graduating high school, and then getting vocational training or further education so they are not "stuck" in a dead-end job. I worked in a dry cleaners in high school, then as a file clerk, a waitress, and an assistant at a child care center while I was in college. All of these jobs helped me keep my goal in mind - none of them were what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Sometimes kids need a reality check. Maybe they think they can have a comfortable life with a minimum wage job. Do these boys have an idea of what it would cost them to live on their own? I think the real world is a very good teacher for teens.

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I had an 18 year old and always let him make the choices. If he did not finish school that was fine with me he is an "adult" is what he likes to say so if he did not finish school he would have to leave the house. He would say "are you kicking me out" and i would tell him that he is choosing to leave by not following the rules. tehy want to feel in control so let them think it while you really are. Good luck!

1 mom found this helpful

Yes mom you have a house full, One thing I done with my first son who was seventeen, he wanted his own car to get to school and back now that he was older, and to be with friends, I then added okay, first you need to make school number one choice, two you need a on the side a job when you are out for the day and on weekends to earn it, I told him school first, and good grades count, if so I would help him to buy his first car, I told him I would match what he saved up for a car from working at a job, the two can make a good impression towards both if they are willing too, second comes the responsibility contract, the curfew hrs, the no drinking policy, while maintaing their chores in the household rule that gets done. You are not mean just letting them know life is even tougher once they have to still do it all plus pay all their own bills later with no turning around to say they will do it later or not now or dont feel like it yet. talk to them S.,

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I had a few rules too. Either you are in school or you are working or you are out of here.

Without their own income where shall they live?

With those rules my two children not only finished high school but Jr. College. The older one worked. The younger one worked when she wanted to live on her own in the second year at Jr. College and she has a teaching degree now.

How about a bribe? Tell them for theirs graduation you will help them buy a car. The help will come if they start a job and save the money and you will add some more or something like that. Usually the kids that age would like to have a car. Good luck!

This is a tough call but I think that you are doing it right by placing the responsibility where it belongs, squarely on the shoulders of the young people. I was a public school teacher for 13 years before staying at home to raise my own. You are also very much within your rights to make it very clear that continued residence in your home depends on following your "very simple rules" and one of those rules could be consistent attendance at school or working. You also could sit down with these kids and calmly discuss some "reality checks" like how hard it is to get a job right now, especially with the tough economy and without further training out of high school. Not giving them a free ride is the best thing that you can do for them and if they don't choose to complete high school, that is own their shoulders and they can always go back to earn a GED or face the music when pinching and scraping to survive gets really old.


yes, that is a lot there to contend with. I have a 17.5 yr old, who I'm praying will graduate in June.He is my only child and we've had many challenges, all through his high school yrs, but even more so in his senior yr.
I just try to make him aware of what life would be like without a high school diploma, and to instill in him that the more he educates himself, the better quality of life he will have.I don't want him to have to work 2-3 jobs to make ends meet. I encourage him to do his best.Just this morning I told him that I'm not expecting perfection, just give it his best shot for the next few months.That that can make all the difference in the world.
what scares me is he lacks any clear cut goals or plans for his future, immediate future, like what will he do once he graduates. Its' not his desire to further his education beyond high school, so I just try to support him in whatever
he does & decides to do. I cannot relive my life through my child.I think most times as parents, we want so much for our children , that we make all of the decisions for them, leaving them with very little independence concering their own futures.I just let him know that we love him , regardless, and that we will support him in whatever he endeavours to do. We need to let our children know what we'd like for them, but embrace what they want for themselves as well. to respect their choices, let them make mistakes, and be here to support them if things don't work out for them .
I just pray that he will come into his own & make the right decisions and respect them for whatever they choose to do.

All great answers. I was hoping someone would mention having weekly family meetings, after the ground rules have been agreed upon, to keep everyone updated. Maybe there is someone that would be able to explain it further?
I do know of a few high school students that dropped out and are now getting their GED and one thought is that it doens't hold the same weight as a HS diploma. They too are sorry that they didn't hang in there. Does the boys school have a vocational program of any kind? If they aren't in it, maybe you/they could look into it. It sounds like they maynot make it through college and a trade or skill would be a good thing to have in today's market. Wishing you the very best.

One look at the help wanted pages should be motivation enough for your 18 yr old senior boys. If they don't have the grades, attendance, and skills that employers are looking for, they won't get jobs. They will be competing with folks who have skills, who have an education and a reputation for working and working hard. If you live in the state of Washington, a culminating project is required for all those graduating. Each school district sets their guidelines for the project, and many have a pretty rigorous criteria for this. Right now I'm mentoring my 18 yr old nephew on his and tutoring him as well as he's not the most industrious and curious student, about any subject. He just turned 18 and the attitude change about what he could and would do happened like a flip of the switch, from bad to worse. He's an only child and my brother asked for my help as he can't handle the frustration and stories any longer. He and his ex-wife have been separated/divorced for 4 yrs, and this nephew continues to play them against one another so they're so focused on the 'game' he set them up for, that they don't pay attention to his issues. Keep on them. Keep consequences in place. So they're 18. They still need those classes to graduate, to build that resume for future employment or education. They will never have another opportunity to learn for free, with no tuition costs, ever again. You need to know what they're up to and where they are at all times. 18 doesn't mean they have fully developed minds or consciences. Talk to them about sex, alcohol and drinking. What happens when you're in places that aren't known for their safety. They may be adults in their eyes, but they're in that limbo area, where they live at your home, they don't fully appreciate the protection that they had has minors with parents to help shield them. They believe their invincible. If you haven't had a respectful relationship with consequences, good an bad, before they were 18, chances are you won't get one now without considerable work. I have a 22 yr old daughter, 20 yr old son and a very soon to be 18 yr old son. So these words come with experience. I've been so lucky with my kids. There is a tug of war as they grow, but it can be done with love and growth on both sides of the rope. This is harder than labor pains and there's no epidural. My 20 yr old came home yesterday from a 4yr college (he started in January) and we were both so happy to see each other. ps He didn't bring his dirty laundry!!!!
I wish you well.

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