My Son’s Graduation Ceremony
The disappointment and disruption from the coronavirus have been especially hard for teenagers who have been caught in limbo when they are ready to soar. Many teens are experiencing complicated emotions right now. They have had to adjust to online learning, isolation from their friends, and canceled events like prom, graduation, and sports seasons.
I witnessed this first hand. My son was a senior in high school this year, and he was so excited! He attended a performing arts High School and was finally going to perform the solo piece that he has been dreaming about since freshman year. When they closed schools for the rest of the 2020 school year, my son was devastated. He was losing out on so many senior rites of passage. There would be no end of the year musical, Senior Awards Night, senior class trip, prom, or graduation. It hit him like a tornado as his school started canceling all of the things he had worked so hard for. We also had to cancel our trip for his college orientation in Ohio and will be seeing the campus for the first time when he starts in August. In the months that I have spent with him, he has become very isolated and depressed, and I worry about him.
Other Benchmark moments like birthdays, sweet sixteen, and getting driver’s permits or licenses look different in quarantine. Some students were looking forward to participating in summer internships or programs. Others wanted to apply for summer jobs or employment after graduation. These sorts of opportunities have been delayed, or potentially missed altogether.
Teenagers may also be experiencing other significant changes in their lives as a result of COVID-19, including financial stress, safety concerns for self and family, educational changes, and social and physical distancing. These changes, coupled with disrupted milestones, may lead youth to experience feelings of loss and a range of emotions, such as disappointment, sadness, anger, frustration, and anxiety, which are likely echoed by their family members who were looking forward to the same events.
As adults, these things might seem trivial in comparison to what else is happening in the world, but parents should acknowledge the feelings of loss their child is experiencing and allow them to express themselves. To your child, these events are huge.
Everyone reacts differently to stressful situations, so you should not expect any specific reaction. Still, please take a few moments to talk with your teen about how they feel and what may help them during this difficult time.
Remind them that all of these thoughts and feelings are common right now and discuss simple self-care strategies that will help manage anxiety and depression symptoms.
TIPS FOR PARENTS AND OTHERS WHO WORK WITH ADOLESCENTS
- Validate how teens are currently feeling. One example of validation is saying, “You’ll get through this, but that doesn’t make it any less miserable.”
- When issues come up, problem-solve with teens instead of for teens.
- Encourage creative ways to celebrate the milestones and connect with peers. Example: My son’s school had drive-through graduation, and we decorated the car and enjoyed hearing all of the cheers from his teachers and mentors.
- Give teens space while monitoring for concerning symptoms or behaviors.
- Foster ways in which youth can continue to work towards their activities and goals. For example, continue to do exercises associated with their sport, continue creating art, or studying for a driver’s permit test. Example: My son never got his driver’s license, so this was an excellent opportunity for him to study for his permit and take driving lessons.
- Document innovative alternative programs to address delayed and missed milestones and evaluate the impact that would be beneficial to share and disseminate with other organizations and communities.
TIPS FOR TEENAGERS TO HELP THEM MANAGE THEIR MENTAL HEALTH
- Maintain a daily routine with consistent sleep, activity, and study patterns.
- Stay connected with others and try to find moments of humor.
- Talk to people you feel comfortable with about your feelings or worries, then permit yourself to stop worrying.
- Eat breakfast every morning, plus snacks and meals at regular times throughout the day.
- Limit coffee or energy drinks, as these will increase feelings of anxiety and make it difficult to relax.
- Look for patterns or be aware of situations that make you feel particularly worried or anxious. When you’re in these situations, try relaxation or distraction techniques or ask a family member or friend to help.
- Relieve times of high anxiety with physical activity; engage in regular aerobic exercise (e.g., walk, jog, yoga, dance).
- Limit the amount of time you spend talking about or watching/listening to news media or social media if you find information about the COVID-19 situation overwhelming or distressing.
- Do hobbies or activities that you enjoy, calm you down, or focus your mind and body. These could be arts and crafts, physical activity, listening to music, reading, journaling, watching TV or movies, or chatting with friends by phone, videoconference, or text.
- Understand that the people around you are probably also finding this situation stressful, and they might also be having difficulty controlling their emotions. Try to resolve conflict.
Be kind to yourself and each other, and let your teen know that you will work through this together.