Think back to your senior year of high school. Once spring rolled around, you were basically home-free and could finally experience the joy of “senioritis”: getting to go to school and see your friends while enjoying lower academic expectations. Plus there were so many major events to look forward to like senior prom, graduation and any other traditions your school may have had. But now, thanks to the coronavirus outbreak, many high school (and college) seniors are coming to terms with having to miss all of that.
Sure, there are classes on Zoom and group FaceTime chats, but of course it’s not the same. And if you’re the parent of a high school senior, this can be hard to watch. You’ve seen your kid work so hard for so long, only to have the celebrations of making it through high school taken away. Though you may feel helpless, there are ways to make this situation a little easier. Lifehacker spoke with mental health and education experts to find out how parents can help their high school seniors cope with having their year cut short.
Acknowledge and validate their grief
Whether or not you realize it, your high school senior may be grieving the loss of the end of their final year of high school, as well as all the milestones that come along with it. The first thing parents should do is being aware and sensitive of their child’s loss. “Losing such an important time in your life is devastating, and it’s important to empathize with your teenager during this confusing time,” Prairie Conlon, a licensed mental health practitioner and clinical director of CertaPet tells Lifehacker. In addition to that, Bethany Raab, a licensed clinical social worker who specializes in treating adolescents, says the most important thing parents can do now is to validate their child’s feelings.
It’s not only your kid who has worked hard in school the past 13 years—you have too. And because of that, you may be grieving too. After all, you’re being robbed of the opportunity to see your child walk across the stage at graduation and get their diploma, as well as taking awkward pre-prom photos in the front yard. But Marni Pasch, a trained school counselor turned academic coach, cautions parents to be mindful of whether they are projecting their own emotions onto their child. “The cancellation of high school traditions can also be traumatic for the parent—particularly first generation parents—and it is important to assess whether the parent’s emotions are shared by the child,” she tells Lifehacker. “Parents should take time to acknowledge their own disappointment as well.”
Ask them what they need
As much as you’d like to jump into your caregiver/protector role, check with your child first and ask them what they need right. If they just want to be left alone to play video games, don’t try to push it. “Don’t force conversation, but let your teen know you’re ready to listen when they want to talk,” Raab says. “Don’t give too much advice just yet—we really don’t know enough to give long-term advice at this point.”
Yes, it may be hard to hear that they don’t want your help right now, even harder to see your child upset, but when it comes to coping with the loss of the end of their high school career, let them take the lead. “We hate when our kids have negative feelings and we try to talk them out of it. Don’t do it! It doesn’t help them,” Claudia Luiz, a psychoanalyst tells Lifehacker. “This is a chance to help children feel good about themselves, even when the feelings aren’t all rosy.”
Find other ways to visit colleges
On top of everything else, high school seniors who are opting to attend college now have to decide where to enroll. Though this deadline can be as early as mid-March for some schools, traditionally, May 1st has been the last day to accept offers. But as of right now, some universities are pushing that back to June 1st because of the coronavirus outbreak. Not every college is doing this, so definitely check with your kid’s choice to see what their policy is.
There’s also the issue of college visits. Though some people may have been ahead of the game and started college visits their junior or even sophomore year, not everyone is in the same boat. So what are you supposed to do if you haven’t yet taking a college tour and need to send in your acceptance?
“Many colleges and universities are moving towards some sort of virtual options for students,” Jamie Pack, a college planning consultant at Advantage College Planning tells Lifehacker. “A lot already have virtual tours available— YouVisit and Campus Reel are good resources for this. Others are readying some sort of virtual admitted student event for prospective students. I recommend that students try to tune into these if possible.” Pack also suggests doing a drive-thru car tour of a campus if it happens to be close to where you live. No, you won’t get to taste the cafeteria food, but at least you’ll get an idea of what the place looks like if you hadn’t seen it already.
And keep in mind that universities’ admissions staff are still working (though probably from home at this point). Feel free to reach out to them with any questions you have and they’ll do their best to help out. Also, Michaela Schieffer, an independent college counselor with Moon Prep, recommends having high school seniors utilize social media to help with the process. “It is also a great practice to follow your top schools on social media, as universities will likely increase their online presence during this time, and may be offering additional virtual tours,” she tells Lifehacker.
Along the same lines, Colleen Ganjian, founder of DC College Counseling points out that taking a look at how your universities have responded to coronavirus can be very telling. “This is actually a great way to evaluate how an institution handles a crisis situation, and might provide more insight as to the inner workings of a given college or university than any other source,” she tells Lifehacker. “How well did each school on your list go above and beyond to support their students? For example, some schools provided students with stipends to pay for the cost of their belongings to be shipped home, while others locked students out of their dorms during spring break and essentially told them to fend for themselves.”
No, you cannot hold your child’s prom in your backyard—and besides, a prom isn’t exactly conducive to the physical distance guidelines—but there are some creative ways to try to make the next few months a little more bearable. But check with your kid first before doing anything like this. They may still need their space, and if they’re not into your ideas, it may only make things worse. For example, you could hold a mini graduation in your home or backyard and use Zoom or FaceTime so your friends and relatives could attend virtually.
I’m 100 percent confident that if the end of my senior year of high school had been cut short, my mother would have come up with some ridiculous-bordering-on-annoying activities, like holding an all-polka prom in the kitchen exclusively for our household, performing a vaudeville-style song and dance number about how things could actually be much worse, or reading out a list of “superlatives” where I receive everything from “Most Likely to Succeed” to “Female With the Most Facial Hair” to “Most Likely to Give Me Plenty of Grandchildren, God Willing.” There’s no need to go to those lengths, but if your high school senior does want to do something to mark the occasion of their graduation ask them how they’d prefer to do that.