Supporting Your Teen Through Disappointments
2020 has dealt very unexpected blows to all of us- including our children and teenagers. Across the world events have been cancelled, jobs have been lost, study has been altered, and our lives have completely changed in a matter of months.
From the students we have been able to continue visiting through our high school programs in less restrictive areas, we are hearing deep disappointment, especially among Yr 12 students who have had their milestone year disrupted and are feeling that their efforts and accomplishments are diminished as long-awaited recitals, presentations, formals, camps and graduation celebrations are cancelled. These disappointments can be felt and processed by young people as loss, which has the same process as grief. While it may seem like there isn’t much you can do in a year full of so many disruptions and uncertainties, there are simple ways you can support your teen and help them build the resilience to face them.
there are simple ways you can support your teen and help them build the resilience they need
When your teen is expressing that they feel disappointment about how things have turned out, it can often be our first reaction to try to comfort or encourage them by reminding them that things are not as bad as they could be. While this may be true, it is more beneficial to allow your teen to talk out their disappointments first, so that they can identify their emotions and the situations that may be causing them to feel the way they do. Sit with your teen and simply provide a listening ear for them to express their disappointments to. Remember that many teens will be experiencing these disappointments as a form of loss and grief, and so it will be normal and even expected for them to be deeply emotional. For further information on how to support your teen through grief read more below.
After they have vented out their frustrations, letting them know that you have heard them and that their feelings are valid will help your teen know that they shouldn’t be ashamed of feeling disappointed, and that they have a normal response to such a big event. Giving them some examples of how you may have also experienced personal disappointments can also encourage them in not suppressing their feelings. Remind your teen that you love them and that whatever comes, you will always love and support them- and be there to talk or cry to. Encourage them to also consider some positives they have in their lives in a calm, non-patronising way, and remind them that even if they can’t celebrate their accomplishments in the way they expected, it doesn’t diminish their hard work and resilience in any way.
Schools and teachers are doing an incredible job of supporting their students in adapting to a post-COVID-19 world by providing alternative and innovative processes which lessen the disruption students would otherwise face in their schooling. A school we recently visited told us that they are now holding their formal outdoors under some giant marquees- which we thought sounded like a great alternative so that students could still celebrate their graduation! For students who may not be able to engage in their anticipated end-of-schooling celebrations, perhaps suggesting a gift such as a new computer, some additions to their wardrobe, a beautiful new watch or even a sum to go towards a deposit to a car could be alternatives to mark their exciting graduation!
Provide new routines
Beyond the big events, changes to their everyday routines can also be disappointing, jolting or difficult for teens to adapt to. Perhaps extra-curricular activities have been cancelled, or regular social interactions have stopped, causing your teen to become isolated or lonely. Developing activities you can do together as a family can help your teen from feeling especially lonely, and can help support positive mental and physical health. Perhaps you and your teen can schedule in a weekly (or daily!) time to stretch in the backyard or a local park, take up a new hobby such as origami or sewing, learn a new language together, paint a mural together, plant a veggie patch, start a podcast, or even work towards running a 5K or 10K! Activities which include exercise in particular will help release endorphins and serotonin (the happy chemicals) to combat anxiety or depression your child may be feeling in regards to disappointments they are facing. Developing new routines together also provides you with an opportunity to bond with your teen and create good memories together before they graduate.
Some teens may not be able to adjust to or process the massive changes they face, and that is so ok! It doesn’t mean your teen or you have failed in any way. If you do think your teen is struggling, encourage them to seek professional support like a counselor or psychologist. If your teen doesn’t want to go and see someone, there are phone or online services available where they can chat or text a professional about how they are feeling.