Earlier this spring, in just a matter of days, high school and college students went from living their normal lives — going to school, participating in sports and activities, hanging out with their friends — to being stuck at home, forced to “social distance” and take classes online. To say this transition has been difficult is an understatement. Adolescents typically want to spend more time with their friends than with their families, and this is developmentally appropriate, as it helps them gain independence and establish their own identities. Because of COVID-19, that normal teenage paradigm has been turned on its head.
We adults are dealing with our own set of challenges during this pandemic, but it’s important that we recognize the struggles teens and young adults are facing. As a parent, it may seem trivial when your kid complains about the cancellation of a spring sport or performance, the inability to get together with friends, or the difficulties of online learning. After all, people are getting seriously ill and dying, medical professionals and others are putting themselves on the front lines to care for those who need help, and still others have lost their jobs.
But loss is relative, and like adults, young people are experiencing a range of emotions as they adjust to this “new normal.” Rather than trying to downplay these feelings, parents should acknowledge them and give their kids space to process them. For many students, the prominent emotion is grief. This is especially true for high school and college seniors who are missing out on events they may have been looking forward to for a year or more: proms, senior banquets, senior weeks of activities, graduation ceremonies, and the list goes on. At a number of colleges, students were not even allowed to return to campus after spring break; therefore, seniors didn’t have the opportunity to say good-bye to friends, professors, and other individuals with whom they’d built relationships over the last four years.
In mid-March, my niece, who is a senior in college, called and told me that her university had given students five days to pack up all of their belongings and move out of campus housing. I could tell she was trying not to cry when she said, “This was not how my senior year was supposed to end,” and I couldn’t stop my own tears from flowing. My heart ached for her and for all the other high school and college seniors whose last year of school was being cut short.
As young people deal with all of the upheaval in their lives, adults may be concerned about their mental health. The following resources might help:
- This UNICEF article describes a number of ways teens can protect their mental health during this time.
- This blog post provides examples of how teens can deal with stress.
- This blog post offers advice for parents on helping teens and young adults deal with the impacts of COVID-19.
- This article addresses high school and college students in the Class of 2020 and the emotions they’re experiencing.
To conclude, I thought I’d share what I posted on my personal Facebook page on March 24: “These are challenging, uncertain times. The situation is changing daily, as are the directives from our elected officials. Let’s remember that we are all doing the best we can in a difficult, unprecedented situation, and be kind to ourselves and each other.”