Senior year is an emotional roller coaster. The semester starts with excitement, rolls into impatience for some in the wait for college acceptance, and ends with joy as students celebrate with special graduation events. This year, unfortunately, is like no other. Due to COVID-19, many end-of-high school milestones have been postponed or outright canceled.
My son, who was just accepted to a university on the East Coast, and his friends truly understand that missing graduation is somewhat trivial compared to the devastation the pandemic has caused our world. The disappointment seniors are feeling is still heartbreaking, however. Most graduating students already have at least some anxiety about leaving for college, but now they have to figure out how to manage their emotions in a world where everything seems upside-down.
Even though our kids may not let us know, they still look to their parents for guidance and support. It is important for adults to recognize that the coronavirus is one of the most significant events our children have ever experienced. Simply acknowledging their feelings of disappointment will relieve some of the sadness your son or daughter feels and, more important, provide a space for your teen to share his or her thoughts.
As you listen to your children’s concerns, urge them to shift their focus to things they can control, such as staying connected and active. Through social media and video chat platforms like Zoom, teens should gather online. Let your senior know that it is okay to plan future events with friends, including graduation parties and fun trips, for after the crisis ends. Additionally, socially distanced runs, walks or hikes outdoors are another excellent way to spend time with others and get some exercise.
High school graduation is also a time of closure. Many of this year’s seniors will miss the opportunity to say goodbye to a beloved teacher or favorite coach. Encourage your child to find a creative way to express his or her gratitude to an educator who played an important role in his or her life. This will not only feel good for the graduate but also bring a well-deserved smile to the face of the recipient.
Despite the world situation, it is comforting to see that most seniors are adjusting to the “new normal.” If, however, you feel your son or daughter is struggling to get out of bed or is overburdened by the world situation, seek professional assistance. Most therapists are doing telehealth appointments, thereby making counseling sessions more available than ever.
This is a unique time for seniors and parents, and grief is an acceptable word to use because seniors have “lost” a valuable milestone of adolescence. However, when stay-at-home orders end, our time together will be even more meaningful. Celebrating with family and friends will happen, and the class of 2020 – some of the most resilient kids I know – will prosper!
Prior to going into private practice as a psychotherapist and learning-disabilities specialist, Russell Hyken, Ph.D., Ed.S., M.A., LPC, NCC, worked for more than 15 years as an English teacher, school counselor and school administrator. Visit him online at ed-psy.com.
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