“My 18-year-old son is a senior in high school and was supposed to walk across the stage to receive his diploma along with all his friends this spring. But because of the coronavirus, it's likely that his graduation ceremony will be canceled or live streamed. Either way, he’s so disappointed. And we were looking forward to it, too. How can I help him deal with this blow?”
To adults, a canceled graduation ceremony isn’t the end of the world, especially when many families are dealing with job losses and other strains right now. But to your teen, this is his life, his world, and the culmination of years of hard work and strong friendships. Altering this ceremony can feel life-shattering for him. So, the first thing to do as parents is to acknowledge his feelings without minimizing them. Simply saying something like, “I get it—you miss your friends and it really sucks that you won’t be able to have the graduation you thought you were going to have,” will help him know that you hear and value his experience, even if you can’t fix it.
Next, talk with him about some of the positive things he can do. Everyone’s life has been turned upside down by this pandemic, but there’s an opportunity to remind him of things he can be thankful for—like his friends, his health and parents who love him (he may roll his eyes but it’s true). And while he can’t see his peers face-to-face right now, you can help him plan a Zoom vent session or use an app like Netflix Party to watch movies alongside his friends. You can also talk about some of the fun things he has to look forward to like college or maybe even a trip with friends in a few months.
One thing you shouldn’t do? Make this about you. Of course, you were looking forward to celebrating your child’s accomplishments and maybe you had even planned a big party to mark the occasion. But it’s not helpful to him if you complain about the invites you already sent out or make him feel guilty about the lost deposit on the venue you were going to rent out.
Another thing to keep in mind: Whether the graduation is canceled or live-streamed, you can celebrate at a later date or throw a streaming party for the big day—order some decorations online, pick up a special cake from your local bakery (they need your support right now) and get grandparents and friends to dial in. Set the example of making lemonade out of lemons.
Carter Barnhart is a Chief Experience Officer for Newport Academy, a leading mental health facility for teens and young adults.