COVID-19 (coronavirus) Featured Youth mental health

COVID-19: Teens and missed milestones

A sad teen.
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Written by Jennifer Palisoc

The COVID-19 pandemic has meant the cancellation of proms and graduations for many students who may be dealing with disappointment over having their plans called off.

“For many teens, prom and graduation is a rite of passage and a time to celebrate the transition from the teenage years and high school on the journey to adulthood,” says Dr. Amy Cheung, youth psychiatrist at Sunnybrook. “Whether it is graduation, prom, a playoff game or end of year performance, these are events that teens may have been looking forward to that are no longer coming to fruition and it’s important to acknowledge that.”

Dealing with disappointment

A lot of time, planning and anticipation can go into preparing for milestone events such as graduation and prom. To have these celebrations postponed or cancelled can leave teens feeling anger, frustration, and sadness.

“Young people may be experiencing a sense of grief and loss for having missed the opportunity,” explains Dr. Cheung. “Family and friends can provide support by acknowledging how their teen is feeling about missing these milestones and helping them find a way to express their emotions.”

Continuing to celebrate

To acknowledge these key moments for high schoolers, some school boards have found creative ways to recognize graduates, and some students are continuing to celebrate with virtual proms.

Family members who are living in the same household can celebrate together in meaningful ways. Some ideas for the household include a graduation ‘ceremony’ (have the graduate dress up in a gown and cap and take photos!), a dance party, or a celebratory meal.

“Celebrating together can help acknowledge a teen’s accomplishments and help them mark a new chapter in their lives,” says Dr. Cheung.

Look forward to the future

The 2020 school year may not have ended the way anyone expected, and at this point, there are still many unknowns. It may be easier said than done, but the time young people have right now may be an opportunity to learn something new – a chance to consider and re-consider options for the future, whether it be academic, work-related or otherwise.

“Post high school plans may change in many ways. Travel plans may have to be postponed, or a student may not be able to move into their university residence as previously hoped,” says Dr. Cheung. “It can be disappointing, but other opportunities could come up. For example, perhaps taking a course at a school you’d never considered before. It could be online and in another part of the world. Students will likely need to consider creative ways to move forward as they reshape their plans for the future.”

How to support young people during the COVID-19 pandemic »

Get more resources and information about COVID-19 from Sunnybrook experts »

About the author

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Jennifer Palisoc

Jennifer Palisoc is a Communications Advisor at Sunnybrook.

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