Everything feels both chaotic and tentative at the same time right now. Schools are out, but still teaching. Proms are postponed or canceled. Senior week and pranks no longer brighten graduation week, and graduation week doesn't even exist. The health of our country--and world--far surpasses these daily changes, but that doesn't change the fact that kids, especially seniors are really getting the short end of the stick.
Seniors in high school and especially college are missing out on sports, dating, graduation trips and many other senior year traditions. Many spend time wishing they were in classes, not just on their laptops. They feel angry and frustrated, sometimes lonely and depressed. Not the send off they were looking forward to. And, yes, I'm sure there will be virtual parties and commencement ceremonies, but that's not what they worked so hard for.
So how do we help them focus on and look forward to their next steps? Closure isn't going to be easy and stress levels are running high. How do they take their AP tests? Right now it appears the tests will be shortened and taken online at home. Which in the abstract is better for the kids. But it is yet another new task to master at a very vulnerable time.
The really big question for many is how to choose the college they want to go to. Many haven't gotten to visit the schools because of the pandemic. Sure they can do virtual visits and even virtual interviews but that is completely different, and for many not enough. For me and for my kids, it was getting on campus that was the ultimate deciding factor. It was that vibe, that intangible aspect of the atmosphere, the look of the kids--whether they are wandering alone or grouped in clusters, and the look and feel of the campus.
All of these changes heighten the stress and anxiety our kids feel. It’s not only the isolation and loss of the human connection, the missing of friends, the loss of the experiences but also the loss of the memories because they won’t have them. So how can we help?
Let them feel the feelings they have. and validate that it's ok to feel and express them. And it's ok for you to grieve or feel their loss as well. Don't feel like you have to smile and point out any silver linings you can. At the same time, try to create new milestones and memories. Consider having a virtual party for graduation with their friends, or host a real one once restrictions are lifted. Ask them--they may have ideas on what would be fun to do.
Try to keep stress levels low by not nagging them. Yes they still need to do their online studies but most schools are easing up on grades or even going pass/fail. Let them embrace that. Instead, encourage them to get outside, exercise, and Zoom of FaceTime their friends and other family members. Social distancing doesn't have to lead to a feeling of isolation and loneliness so we need to help with that. Suggest a Netflix party or learning a new skill or playing games virtually. Try to keep them active and engaged so spirits stay high.
Some schools have pushed the decision deadline past May 1 due to the virus, which may help if campuses open up; but that's not looking likely right now. Support your student in her choice--do not add stress or pressure to choose one school over another (unless it's a financial reason or something). One of the best things you can do is show her that you believe she'll make a good decision. Be there to assist and help them think it through, but trust them to know themselves.
Get off the Comparison Train
This is not the time to worry or think about where other kids are choosing to go. What they are doing doesn't matter, and the comparisons and competition is brutal. Do we really want to teach them to "keep up with the Joneses", this young? Believe me, they will be comparing and contrasting with each other, so as a parent let it go, let it go, let it go! I really believe our kids will all end up right where they are supposed to. They will find their place and their tribe.
College is expensive. But you don't always, have to pay the full sticker price. Look into financial aid, scholarships, grants and even merit pay. Schools will send accepted students a financial aid award letter, detailing loans, grants, scholarships and work-study options. Compare the offers and don't assume that's the best you'll get. If they get multiple acceptances and aid but the school they really want to go to offers the least incentive, call that school and explain the circumstances. If they want your student, they may find a little more money to offer.
We are all feeling loss and worry now--for ourselves, our kids, our community and our world. It's totally normal for your teen to feel anger, sadness and worry about their future. So it's important to build each other up and support our teens through this time. We can all explore new interests, connect with family and make new types of memories together.