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This pandemic has hit everyone hard, some demographics more so than others.  Senior citizens in retirement communities have been hit the hardest in terms of numbers contracting the virus and deaths from it.  Health care and other front line workers are being hit hard too and being recognized daily, rightly so.

Another group of seniors getting hit hard by this pandemic are high school seniors.  Not in terms of numbers contracting the virus or dying from it but rather by significant losses of events and experiences that are the norm at their time of life, “rites of passage” that are not or will not be happening.  Senior year of high school is generally a year of peaks, of reaching milestones, a culmination of 12 years of classrooms, homework, tests, etc.  High school seniors are the “top dogs” in the school hallways, are playing at their highest levels in sports and are often the stars in their schools’ music programs and plays.  They are reveling in all the accolades of being a senior while preparing for transitioning to the next stage of their lives.   Sadly, it is very different for the Class of 2020.

I’ve talked to several therapists who are working with high school seniors to find out what they are seeing and hearing and to see how they are helping them deal with all of it.  They all agree that, yes, this is an especially difficult time for high school seniors and is one full of disappointments.  Students miss seeing their friends and teachers every day, they’re not able to finish their sports season, and a big one is that they’ll miss out on the prom.  Maybe most tragic is that their senior year as they knew it ended so abruptly with no time to say good-bye or come up with plans to stay connected.

There isn’t one perfect way to help seniors deal with all of the disappointments and losses but here are a few things I’m hearing:

  • Taking it day by day right now. This isn’t easy to do for adults with fully developed brains and years to practice it and so is most certainly more difficult for teenagers to do. Nevertheless, therapists are helping teens focus on and deal with day to day issues rather than too much focus on future fears.
  • Learning meditation and mindfulness techniques.
  • Recognizing what he or she DOES have control over, i.e. which friends to reach out to and when, how to spend spare time.
  • Normalizing emotions and reactions. One therapist said that if someone isn’t feeling stressed or out of sorts to some degree that may be more concerning than not reacting at all or acting like everything is just fine.  This is an important time to talk about the disappointments, sadness, and losses.  Doing so is a strength, not a weakness!!
  • Reaching out to friends and adults who are safe and will honor these feelings.
  • Creating routine. Structures and schedules are helpful.   One therapist told me of a young client who came up with using a pie chart for scheduling his days rather than a chronological schedule.  He makes sure a certain percentage of his day is doing specific things.  How smart!  This is a great example of being creative and figuring out what works best for each person.  One size does not fit all.
  • Some high school seniors are scheduling their graduation parties for July or August and some are planning to go out for dinner over the summer in lieu of the prom.
  • One therapist shared that when clients feel disempowered, she sometimes asks, “what would you like to look back on during this time and feel proud of?” She gets responses like “I kept up with my school work/grades,” “I followed community safety rules of staying home,” “I had fun/meaningful time with my family before leaving for college.”  For high school seniors, this could include finding ways to celebrate virtually, getting ready for college, (i.e. getting dorm supplies, finding out about class registration process, exploring academic and non-academic opportunities).

This new way of living during quarantine can bring us together in unique ways. Families need each other’s support and help at this time.  Working toward taking care of oneself, family, and community in safe ways is empowering.  Parents can help by modeling their own creative strategies to grow resilience, encourage their teens to take some steps in bolstering positive energy, and providing support and praise for their teens’ efforts.

Virtual-social-groups for adults and youth offer conversation to help lessen the toll social isolation can take on your mental health.