It's been quite a year. Despite what we all hoped at the beginning of the school year, chances are your kid has had a less-than-ideal senior experience so far — from missing their friends to the challenges of learning over Zoom.
Now your child is staring down the prospect of missing — or seriously altering — the special milestones that come with the last half of senior year. What can parents do to help kids who feel like they're getting shortchanged in a way that most of us can't fully imagine? As this situation evolves, here are some things to keep in mind.
1. Recognize they might not understand what they're feeling
Dealing with uncertainty can be hard enough for adults. Right now, our teens are saddled with immense uncertainty at the same time they're making the transition from childhood to adulthood. Worse, many of them are physically cut off from their usual peer-support networks. It's a big load to carry.
High school seniors are probably feeling a range of emotions, including stress, anger, fear, boredom, and denial. Those feelings may manifest in all kinds of unexpected ways, from general moodiness to full-on outbursts. Remember that unusual behavior may be a sign of other things that are bubbling under the surface. Try to deal with these episodes with some extra compassion.
When milestone events are canceled, kids may have more than a sense of disappointment. Rather, their sense of loss might be more akin to grief. They've moved toward certain events their whole lives. It was their turn for prom, graduation, and all the other things prior classes got to do. Why were these things ripped out from under them? How is that fair?
The answer is, of course, that it's not fair. And no, missing prom is not the biggest tragedy people are enduring right now, but that doesn't mean it doesn't matter. Kids have a right to be sad.
Watching your child move through uncomfortable emotions is hard for us as parents, but give them the space they need to feel bad for a while. Don't try to cheer them up right away. Listen when they're ready to talk. Don't minimize their feelings.
To gain some perspective on what kids are dealing with, read this open letter to high school seniors from a Louisiana teacher who had his senior year derailed by Hurricane Katrina.
3. Encourage meditation
Meditation can be an especially effective way to feel more in-control of yourself when everything else is out of control.
Headspace and Calm are popular apps to help newbie meditators get started in just a few minutes a day. You can also check out this article in Vox featuring Tara Brach, a psychologist and meditation teacher. She shares some excellent insights on how meditation can be useful right now, as well as easy techniques you or your child can try on your own.
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Carol Katarsky is a contributing writer for Nitro. She is an award-winning journalist with extensive experience writing about both finance and education. Her corporate and non-profit clients include AIG, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, and the Project Management Institute. She lives in Philadelphia with her husband, son, and one cat more than she should. Read more by Carol Katarsky