By Callie Albaugh, MA, LAMFT
The ‘end of school year’ celebration is one that we all can relate to. Your senior prom, high school or college graduation, finishing your final sports season with your team, or the breath of relief after completing weeks-worth of final exams. These moments in our adolescence were integral to our identities. These moments symbolized accomplishments, our ‘rite of passage’ into adulthood, and turning the page in the next chapter of our life. Today, high school seniors and soon-to-be college graduates are mourning the loss of these critical moments. These moments they spent weeks, months, and years looking forward to have vanished in the blink of an eye. Our teens are now stuck at home, with parents (even worse!) for an indefinite amount of time, forced to face an unwanted and unexpected grief and loss on a continual basis with no escape. How do we support our kids through this period of time filled with the unknown, the grief and loss, and the anxiety of what’s to come?
Validate the Emotions
The emotions your teens are experiencing are real. We have a pandemic that has impacted our world in a multitude of ways. Your children’s individualized world has also been impacted and shifted in so many unexpected ways. As a family, walk into the emotions with your children and help provide a language that can help them articulate how they are feeling. Many kids use humor or sarcasm as a way to deflect or deviate from the true emotion. The phrase “boomer remover”, or some derivation of, although disrespectful and short sighted, may be a window in to the actual grieving that your son/daughter is experiencing. Validate that this experience is hard especially when it manifests in ways that seems cold-hearted and demeaning. A simple statement of, “I’m sorry this is a difficult time for you,” or, “I could imagine you’re feeling ____,” can promote that you are wanting to understand their experience; then help your children move beyond the surface level commentary and into the deeper emotions. Some children want to externally process their thoughts, and others may prefer to journal, play music, or stay active outside. Explore what avenue of self-exploration works best for your individual child.
Be Present in the ‘Now’
It can be easy for us to remain in a cycle of ‘what could have been’. While we want to validate the loss and frustration that our teens are experiencing, we also want to promote an appreciation for life in the current moment. Have your family actively participate in life together and create an appreciation for the moments, big and small, that you have as a family during this time. Remember, now is the only moment that actually exists!
Celebrate the Milestones
Celebrate and honor the moments that are still real and alive, but may look slightly different now. Create a space for your family to celebrate the graduations, the hard work your children have put into their academics, their sports performances, extracurricular activities, and their friendships. As parents, you have the opportunity to lead your children through this experience and celebrate every aspect of who they are and where they are in life.
This new way of life is new for all of us. As a family, take one day at a time. Breathe in the moments you have together and use this space as an opportunity to deepen the connections and intimacy you have together. This time is hard for our kids. They need their parents and other adult leaders to help guide them through the mix of confusing and frustrating emotions they are experiencing. Just like Zac Efron so wisely said in High School Musical, “We’re all in this together”.