As we all attempt to make sense of our world’s current state, there’s a concern for the health and well-being of adolescents. Students are missing milestones, rites of passage are being glossed over, and we hear tales of woe, particularly from high school seniors. Most adolescents are feeling disappointed with how 2020 is panning out, but it’s affecting some more than others, particularly during THE school year they’ve been working towards for a lifetime. This can lead to kids being angry, frustrated, and lacking motivation.
Watching my own daughter struggle with severe grief and loss as a high school senior, I’d discussed my blog topic I was working on and asked for her input. To my surprise, she asked if she could write it for me, from her own perspective. I felt it was an excellent way for her to communicate her frustration, let others know that they’re not alone, and help parents understand what their seniors are going through. I’m incredibly proud of the outcome and am even prouder to be her father.
A letter from my high school senior:
As the world is changing, there are so many things that we have to adapt to protect our safety. This has been especially hard on the class of 2020. As seniors, we have been working hard for twelve years. The end of our senior year was supposed to be a time of recognition and celebration of our achievements. Many of us looked forward to prom, senior trips, graduation, and even just the ability to say a proper goodbye. We thought about whether we would have a prom date under the assumption that we would have a prom. We thought about how we would decorate our graduation caps and dreamt about the day we would toss them into the air together. It never crossed our minds that these things could just be taken away from us by a force that is out of anyone’s control.
Some may not realize it, but these are feelings of grief over the milestones that we won’t be able to have and all of the things we looked forward to. Sure, many administrators are making efforts to replace these things with safe options, but they can’t make up for the real things, although we appreciate the effort. It’s OK to be sad, angry, or in denial. These are actual losses, and seniors need time to grieve. Of course, there are worse things going on in the world. There always are. However, it is essential to know that our feelings are still valid. You only graduate from high school once, but the class of 2020 doesn’t get to do it the way we deserve.
Any grief needs time to process. We need to be able to talk about it, but don’t want to be forced if we aren’t ready. I think it is essential for parents to be aware and understanding of their child’s emotions and to be there for them. For example, if we go into our room and shut the door, it’s best not to follow right away. We need alone time to process and let some emotions out. Give us some space before you knock on the door. Everyone handles things differently, so it is important to listen and allow us to express our feelings, whether you know how to respond to it or not.
When it comes to physically doing things to cheer us up, the little things are appreciated even if our reaction doesn’t show it. Sometimes small gestures may feel insignificant compared to what was lost. Personally, I sometimes get annoyed that people think a yard sign or a T-shirt could replace a senior trip or prom. I know that the school is just trying to help, but it’s still hard to deal with, so my reaction may not show that I appreciate it. I’ve seen some families try to throw a mini prom at home with music and dressing up. While I think this is a nice idea, if you are planning something bigger like this, it would be good to ask your child if they want that first. While one senior may love the idea and have a great time, another may just be reminded of what they are missing and break down over it. If I was surprised with something that made me feel sad about my senior year, I would then feel even more guilty that I made my family feel bad when they were just trying to help. My advice as a senior is if you want to do something for your child, come up with some ideas and ask if they would like any of them while they are in a good mood. If you want to surprise them, keep it small by buying their favorite snack or baking something they would like to show that you’re thinking about them.
In summary, remember these important things when talking to someone who is experiencing this. Acknowledge their feelings and know that their grief is valid. Don’t try to force a conversation, but instead ask what they need and be supportive. Try to find creative ways to honor their milestones. Don’t tell them that you know how they feel, but be sympathetic. Finally, find things to look forward to in the future so they can remember that it will get better.
Grief can take many forms in adolescents, but it is actually a healthy expression of sorrow. Let them grieve, even if you are uncomfortable. Understand that they may not want to “be cheered up,” and that’s OK. Get them involved in family activities, virtual friend visits, driving, or helping their communities. They need to feel like they have a purpose and are not just forgotten.Dr. Stuart Leeds is a Clinical Psychologist who specializes in the treatment of anxiety and depression in children and teens.