Parent Trap: 3.25.20
To all of the high school seniors I know, you are not alone. First off, I want to say that I really do feel for you. I’ve spoken with several seniors recently, all of whom are in shock at the recent turn of events due to the coronavirus. While it’s true that the world has endured plagues, famines, wars, the Cold War, depressions and recessions, it doesn’t take away from the heartbreak you are now facing with the loss of the end of your senior year. Spring break, prom, banquets, sports seasons, band concerts and competitions, and graduation and its celebrations have been put on hold or cancelled.
For many of you, this last semester was the culmination of putting in many hours of practice for plays, concerts, academics and state sports tournaments, some of which have implications for college admissions. So, putting myself in your shoes helps me empathize with the loss of these experiences and traditions. After counseling high school seniors for more than 30 years, I get it.
Without downplaying what you are experiencing, I’d like to offer some perspective and suggestions for moving through this adversity.
1. What is unexpressed becomes unmanageable: Let yourself feel whatever comes up: anger, confusion, sadness. Allow yourself some quiet, alone time to reflect, gather your thoughts, and to express feelings through journaling or artwork. Don’t get busy and distract yourself from your emotions; it will come back and bite you in the butt, I promise.
2. Stay in the present moment: Don’t get too far ahead of yourself. It would be easy to continually ruminate worst-case scenarios in your head. All that does is create unnecessary stress and anxiety. Do some slow, mindful breathing exercises to bring yourself back to the present moment where it is always more peaceful and manageable.
3. Focus on gratitude: You are not in control of what happens globally with this virus, but you are definitely in charge of your emotions and reactions to what plays out around you. Focus on the people, experiences and things in your life that you are grateful for to ward off discouragement and anxiety.
4. You are in charge of your story: All of the externals like grades and titles and championships do NOT define you; your character does, and how you react to events. Setbacks or obstacles experienced at your age will not derail your life. If you don’t believe me, interview every adult you run into and ask them about their story, replete with challenges. Though it may be hard to understand this now, older adults remember moments with friends much more than winning games.
5. Reach out: Extend a hand to friends who are vulnerable. This may include people with unsupportive families, those who suffer from anxiety, or those who are more isolated.
6. Notice the helpers: If Mr. Rogers were alive, he’d remind us that in times of crisis, it’s helpful to look for the helpers. Find ways to express appreciation to people who are serving others: nurses, doctors and grocers.
7. Be helpful: Young people are good at challenging norms, pushing boundaries of thought and creativity. They are willing to take risks and think outside of the box, and are able to connect globally. Help us create new solutions for the myriad problems that arise during times of crisis. We need your energy, creativity and passion.
8. Look at the big picture: Despite your losses, you are also gaining things that will help define you: a new perspective, grit, resilience, generosity, the ability to reach out for help, empathy, awareness of the need for close ties, and looking beyond yourself to the needs of others less fortunate. The intensity of today’s experiences might lead to career choices you hadn’t previously considered. Read the book Supernormals to understand the benefits of overcoming adversity. Choose to see your current challenges as one square on the tapestry that is your life.
You can feel all of your feelings and still maintain control of your thoughts. Be mindful of how you describe yourself and the future, i.e., avoid expressions like “lost dreams” or “devastation.” You are always in charge of your ultimate story. Control what you can, help where you can, be there for
those in need when you can. I feel you, I get you, I’m there for you. You are never alone.
Tim Jordan, M.D., is a behavioral pediatrician who works with girls in grade school through college in his counseling practice and camps. His newest book is Letters from My Grandfather: Timeless Wisdom for a Life Worth Living. For more information, visit drtimjordan.com.