High school and college seniors are mourning major milestones: Here's how to help them navigate a tough time

The pandemic has changed so many aspects of everyday life for countless people and put so much on hold. The graduating class of 2020 has especially been feeling the pinch of not having the ability to celebrate traditions that they may have dreamt about for as long as they can remember. It also may be hard for parents to figure out how to provide support during these uncertain times.

Dr. Jen Hartstein, Yahoo Life Mental Health Contributor and practicing psychologist, says there are ways for parents of teens and young adults to help them deal with the loss they may be feeling right now.

“We can’t change it, we can’t make it better, we just have to allow them to experience the feelings of disappointment and sadness and be there as they’re processing it and remind them that although in this moment, everything is awful, things will get better down the road. But allow them this moment,” she advises.

Hartstein also adds that though parents may not feel like the loss of these experiences are the end of the world, the teen may see it that way and that is OK.

“This is something they have worked towards their whole life,” she says. “They’ve heard this romantic version of what prom is, they’ve been waiting for graduation, these are huge milestones that you may have experienced and you recognize that it’s just a blip on the screen, but for your 17 or 18-year-old, this is a major moment. Don’t minimize it for them, allow them to experience the depth of their emotion, be there to support them and help them work through it.”

She adds that one of the most important things you can do for your loved one is validating their feelings.

“Some things you can say to your teenager as they’re really struggling with this time, is ‘I’m really sorry this is happening, I’m here for you, this really sucks,’” Hartstein says.

Though the feelings of loss can bring on sadness, anxiety and disappointment, which are normal, Hartstein notes that it is important to recognize when to be concerned. She says a change in behavior over a 2-4 week period, including a lack of motivation, can be signs of something more.

“Trust your gut that something more is going on. Ask your teen or young adult how they’re doing, don’t be afraid to broach the subject and if you need to reach out for help, do that,” she advises.

Another way parents can support their graduates during quarantine is to find creative ways to celebrate. Viral videos have popped up across the internet, showing that countless people have been trying to make the best out of a bad situation.

“A lot of celebrities are getting on this. They’re creating virtual proms where they’re inviting other celebrities or they’re creating virtual graduations for the whole country so that we’re getting access to people maybe we never had before,” Hartstein says. “Some schools are creating situations where they’re setting up timed arrivals where you can get a picture crossing the stage in your cap and gown, and your parents can witness that. So everybody has to put their thinking caps on and be creative so that we can create new memories and interesting memories, and we don’t feel like we’re missing out on these milestones and that our teens feel fulfilled in that too.”

Video produced by Todd Garrin

For the latest coronavirus news and updates, follow along at https://news.yahoo.com/coronavirus. According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please reference the CDC’s and WHO’s resource guides. 

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