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March 26, 2020

When Your Teen's Senior Year Is Cut Short

Your daughter puts on the gown she spent months searching for, some pretty high heels, and fixes the final touches of her makeup. She opens her bedroom door and heads for the stairway for that classic, iconic moment of her reveal. You shed a tear as your beautiful baby girl walks down to greet her date for the evening, glowing and excited for the night to come. Her senior prom, a long-awaited night, is finally here to wrap up her final year of high school with dancing and time spent with her best friends.

Except, she doesn’t get the privilege of having that night anymore. Her senior year has come to a screeching halt without so much as a moment’s notice.

Our graduating teens are hurting. For students at many schools, there will be no more sporting events, no closure with friends they may never get to see again, no final words with the teachers who most inspired them, no senior prom, and for many, not even a graduation ceremony. Our teens deserve to participate in all of the final activities of senior year, they deserve to be commemorated for four years of hard work. But due to an unforeseen, difficult circumstance, they’re not being granted the senior year they’d always anticipated.

If you’ve got a teen at home who’s longing for a normal final year of high school, you’re not alone. We hope that your family will be able to find glimmers of joy and hope during such a disappointing situation.

(Disclaimer: Some of our suggestions on helping your teen through this time include getting together with small groups of family and friends. But we value the health of your family, so please take caution in group activities to maintain a healthy environment for everyone.)

    1. Validate what they’re feeling. Before we can do anything to help our kids through this, it’s really important to simply validate their emotions. Let them be sad, let them be angry, let them feel what they need to feel before going into action mode. We tend to want to fix our kids’ problems or take certain actions to prevent bad things from happening to them, but in reality, we have no control whatsoever over this virus. We can’t keep the schools from closing and we definitely can’t change how our kids are feeling about it all. So just sit with them, say “yes, this sucks a lot,” and offer your support and love.
    2. Express your pride. One of the most important moments of a senior’s life is walking across the stage and looking out to see their family’s beaming pride across the room. If your kid’s graduation has been canceled, consider the fact that they probably feel pretty slighted by that, and don’t feel they’re being recognized for their hard work. Take the time to look your kid in the eye and express your pride in him or her. Share your thoughts on their accomplishments, on your love for them, and on your incredible hope for their future.
    3. Throw a mini graduation. We sincerely hope, for the sake of your teen and your family, that your child’s school has only postponed graduation and not canceled it altogether. But if you are in the latter group, missing out on graduation is a big deal, and your teen is likely struggling with that loss. If your family is feeling healthy and up to it, throw a mini graduation! Invite a few family members over, play “Pomp and Circumstance” over the loudspeaker, get a big cake, and celebrate your child. You may also consider including your kid’s best friends because every senior looks forward to sharing that moment with the ones who got them through school. (Of course, keep the crowd small so as to follow CDC guidelines.) This is definitely a nontraditional way to graduate, but it is important to recognize that momentous day in some way.
    4. Let them pull a senior prank on the family. One of the senior traditions (for most schools, but not all!) is a class-wide prank on the school. First off, no, we do not condone vandalism and defacement of school property. But most senior classes do pull some sort of lighthearted prank at the end of senior year, so if this is a tradition your kid is missing out on, they might be pretty bummed out about it. Help your teen to pull a prank on the rest of the family instead. Make it funny, make it memorable, and just have fun with it.
    5. Monitor their mental health. With school canceled and most of their time spent at home, it can be easy for our kids to slip into unhealthy patterns. They’re no longer going to sports practices to remain active, or afterschool clubs for social connections, or even just hanging out with friends regularly. Make sure your teen is eating healthy foods, staying physically active somehow (do at-home workouts, go on walks together, etc.), and staying in contact with friends. Just because the coronavirus has dramatically altered our regular activities doesn’t mean we have to drop them altogether. Find ways for your teen to do the things they love and stay mentally healthy, instead of letting them fall into patterns of isolation, boredom, and stagnation.

To miss out on your senior year is to miss out on some of the most important moments of high school. Don’t let your kid close this chapter of their life without letting them experience some of the highlights they truly care about. We can’t fill the void of class trips, parties, and every big event, but we can at least make up for a few of them. And remember, the most important thing that you can do for your teen is to simply show them that you care, that you love them deeply, and that you’re proud of the person they’ve become.

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