Helping teens cope with the milestones that never happened

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No prom, no high school sports, no traditional graduation.

By Sarah Blumenthal, Colorado’s State School Nurse Consultant | May 8, 2020

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Rows of chairs for graduation on a football field with one girl throwing her cap in the air.

 

Teenagers are arguably the most impacted segment of students who are dealing with the interruption of normal life due to COVID-19. No prom, no high school sports, no traditional graduation. We asked the state school nurse consultant Sarah Blumenthal for ways to talk to teens about what is going on and how they are dealing with the repercussions.

What do you say to teens who have to cope with huge changes to their expectations and daily reality: no graduation, no spring sports, no prom dances, etc.?

Sarah Blumenthal: When people experience a loss, they grieve. That is what is happening for many teenagers. That can include a range of emotions: sadness, frustration, disappointment. How someone grieves is very personal. There is no right or wrong way to grieve. It isn’t a contest. Teens should give themselves permission to grieve and remember they have a right to experience their feelings. It’s also important to remember that some people may not be ready to grieve yet, so allow everyone space and time they many need.

For some, this disruption may have even come as a relief from the social pressures of high school. Everyone has their own responses and they should be respected to react to the events in their own way.

This is such a stressful time in our country. Some people are losing their jobs, their homes and some are getting sick. What are some strategies people can use when they feel overwhelmed and anxious?

Blumenthal: For many, the uncertainty is the hardest thing. When we don’t know what will happen next or how bad things may get, dread and panic can become overwhelming. To help manage anxiety and fears, first, try to stay informed, but don’t overdo it. Create a news media plan with your parents and make sure to use trusted sources such as the Colorado Department of Health and Environment and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Second, focus on things you can control, such as practicing healthy habits and following recommendations from health authorities.

Finally, plan for what you can do. Create a daily schedule and build in time for creativity.

Most teens thrive on being around friends. Now, teens have to be around their families 24-7. What do you say to teenagers who are just getting sick of their siblings or parents?

Blumenthal: This is a time in your life when social connections and experiences are critical. Staying connected, even while physical distancing, is important. This could be a good time to create some new “adult” milestones for yourself: learn how to cook, garden, or create a budget. Create new goals for yourself that include taking on more responsibilities. Use this time to connect with your family and create some positive memories. You have control over how you respond – take this opportunity to show your best side!

Some kids are worried their schooling may suffer after this spring. What are some considerations for those who are concerned about their grades and their standing in school?

Blumenthal: Though in-person learning has been suspended, teachers and school staff are still available and wanting to connect with students. It’s important to reach out to share your concerns with your parents and to connect with teachers and school staff to explain your concerns. They all care very deeply about your well-being.

Some kids are so frustrated that their parents are forbidding them from having friends over or even seeing their boyfriends/girlfriends. Why can’t they see their friends? When will this end?

Blumenthal: Evidence shows many people with coronavirus may not show symptoms but can still spread the virus, particularly young people who appear to be healthy. Physical distancing helps protect our entire world – especially the most vulnerable among us. Human beings need social connections, and you can still make it a priority to stay in touch with friends using social media, video chatting and phone calls. No one can say with certainty how long this will last, but we do not that it won’t be forever.

Some final thoughts.

If ever you need to talk to an expert, it is essential that you reach out to a trusted adult. The Colorado Crisis Services has 24/7 support: 1-844-TALK (8255) or Text “TALK” to 38255.

We are all dealing with high levels of stress and uncertainty and are all being tested and shaped in ways we could never imagine. This is an once-in-a-lifetime experience that you will always share with your peers. When you look back on this, living through the coronavirus crisis as a teen is going to make an amazing story for you. There is a lot that we don’t know, and there are things that we do know. We know that meaningful community connections are essential. We also know that some of the most important things in life have not been cancelled: kindness, imagination, conversations, music, naps, sunshine and hope.