Parenting Tips for the Graduating Class of COVID-19

woman in cap, gown and face mask

The Doctors congratulate all graduating seniors of 2020.

This may not be the momentous life event we all imagined just a few short months ago for the loved ones of the class of COVID-19, and as you look to honor your grad in this new reality, parenting expert Dr. Deborah Gilboa offers some advice and cautions that your young adult may not be experiencing the same feelings of loss that you are. 

As parents, it's incredibly difficult for us to watch our kids go through something hard, but Dr. Gilboa shares, "Assuming that they want what you want is not a winning strategy for parenting teens," and that it's important to ask your young adult how he or she is feeling. She admits she was really surprised to learn that her own son who is graduating high school felt he was missing out on prom, sharing he had never been to a school dance before. 

Her main message is clear: She wants to make sure parents stop putting pressure on themselves to make their kids' lives perfect and to help them learn how to navigate what is in front of them. 

How can you help them do that? She shares that parents should ask, "How is this landing for you?, What is this experience like for you? What emotions are you experiencing?". 

She suggests that if your teen comes to you with their difficulties, complaints or disappointments about not being able to experience graduation in a traditional sense, she shares her trick to use with teens (or anyone, really) is to say, "Hey, I really want to hear what you have to say. Are you looking for empathy, advice or intervention? This can help you meet their needs." 

She cautions, "We can't control how this lands for our kids, it's not our job to. We have to let them have this experience and not try and control it for them." Over a lifetime, we know that they will experience other times of upheaval, so we can't try and engineer this experience for them. As hard as it is, she shares, we need to let them tackle it on their own. 

Instead, she offers 3 things you can do: Empathy, Faith and Support 

  • Have empathy: "This is really hard!"  
  • Have faith: "I know you can get through this."
  • Give support: "How can I help?" 

Dr. Gilboa admits that she has been cautioning herself to not play the "at least" game. "At least there's probably another graduation at some point in your future." She shares, "That's a great way to suck the empathy out of the room." Plus, she cautions about layering on feelings your child may not be having. "Oh, this must be so horrible for you."

The parenting expert says the three pieces of resilience for teens and for adults are important to remember: 

  1. Their ability to tell their own story
  2. Problem solving skills
  3. Knowing how and when to ask for help

If you as a parent help your child to build any of those skills during this time, it's a win. Remember, they will end up stronger for having gone through this experience.