You have noticed your child withdrawing; in their room for hours. They say they are working on school work, but this isn’t how it was supposed to be. It is your child’s senior year, and nothing is quite as you imagined. You imaged helping them get ready for prom and worrying if they would make it home too late. You pictured snapping pictures as they left for their senior trip, and getting teary eyed as you proudly watched them walk across the stage to receive their diploma.
Like many parents right now, you may be feeling heartbroken as you watch your child grieve the loss of the senior year they expected. Covid 19 and the impacts of social distancing have taken away the senior year they had hoped for. Perhaps you don’t know what to say, or you struggle to connect with them. You may worry that you might say the wrong thing and upset them even more
A Glimpse into the Mind of a High School Senior:
For the purpose of this article, a few high school seniors provided me with their thoughts and feelings to help others understand their reality. The following quotes were given with consent, with names changed.
Sarah: “I am most upset I didn’t know that would be my last day. I didn’t know it would be my last time walking off the field after practice. I was thrown a bullet I couldn’t dodge. I didn’t cherish this as I wish I did because it came to an end too soon.”
John: “There is nothing in my life I wanted more than my senior year. I am depressed, literally. Not being able to celebrate my achievements, and not being able to have all the senior activities we waited 4 years for.”
Keisha: “I didn’t get to say my goodbyes.”
These quotes are heartbreaking to say the least. I share them with the intent of helping you to understand what your senior might be experiencing, and to help you support and connect with them through this process.
How to Support Your Senior:
With the recent news of schools being closed for the rest of the year, and in person graduations cancelled, you might be feeling like there is nothing you can do to help your senior. Some things that these students report helping them is connecting virtually with classmates and teachers online.
But what can you do as their parent to help? Listen, listen, and then listen some more.
Active listening is a powerful tool that you can use to connect and support your senior through this process.
Ask them how they are doing, and when they answer show them that you are listening and understand where they are coming from. I know you must be thinking “they are teens, they won’t give me much.” Active listening is defined as concentrating on what is being said. When your teen gives you a piece of information, imagine what they might be thinking and feeling. State back to them what you think they may be feeling in that moment. Allow mistakes. You might not always get it right, but they will appreciate you trying!
Ask Open-Ended Questions
Give them opportunities to continue the conversation about things that are important to them by asking open questions. Even just making a statement that rephrases what they said to you can allow opportunities for further conversation. Here are some replies that you might give to the students above.
For Sarah: This really took you off guard! It’s like you were blindsided.
Start there. This will allow your teen to add more thoughts and feelings about what it felt like to be taken off guard with this change.
For John: You were really looking forward to your senior year, you worked so hard for it. It has been so sad and disappointing. Is there anything I can do to support you through this?
Reflect back to your teen that you understand how hard this has been for them, and offer your support. They might not have any ideas for ways that you can support them, but giving them a secure base of support to fall back on will help them through.
For Keisha: It sounds like you made some really important connections at school. You wished it would end differently.
The sadness of not having proper goodbyes shows that your teen has made some really strong connections. Use this as an opportunity to open up the conversation. Discuss what is important to your teen in the connections that they made.
Remember to reflect what YOUR CHILD is feeling in the moment. Be careful not to confuse what you are feeling or what you would be feeling if you were in their shoes with what they are actually feeling. It’s ok if they are feeling something completely different than you might expect. And don’t forget that it is ok to get it wrong on the first guess, they will correct you which will also foster further communication.
In uncertain times, the power of connection is key. This is what makes the pandemic so difficult: the disconnection. Putting your relationship with your teen at the forefront of interactions is critical. Your teen may be isolating, and doing everything that they can to disconnect right now. While respecting their need for independence, continue to remind them through your actions that you are there for them.
Be with your teen doing things they enjoy.
Facilitate other ways to celebrate. Some parents have done this through facilitating video chat groups with classmates or teachers, doing drive by congratulations for fellow graduates, and celebrating major milestones at home. They may cancel prom, but you can still help your child dress up and create special memories.
Covid 19 has changed the reality of what your child may have expected this year, but there are still opportunities for connection and celebration throughout it all, and your teen has earned it.
If you notice that after trying some of these techniques your teen continues to struggle greatly, there is help available. This may look like changes in eating and sleeping habits, isolation for extended periods of time, frequent bouts of crying, and anger or irritability. A licensed mental health professional may be able to help.
Interested in extra support for your senior?
Contact us for a free video consultation.
Jessica is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who is passionate about helping those struggling with postpartum depression and birth trauma. She creates a safe place for her clients to share their stories and develop the necessary skills to thrive. Jessica specializes in treatment for children, families, and mothers.