Canceled Graduation? Missing Milestones Is Tough On Young People : Shots - Health News Stuck at home, with graduations and celebrations canceled, young people are feeling disconnected. Here's how to help them through.

With Senior Year In Disarray, Teens And Young Adults Feel Lost. Here's How To Help

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For a lot of young people, sheltering at home means missing some important milestones, like graduation. Here's NPR's Patti Neighmond.

PATTI NEIGHMOND, BYLINE: Eighteen-year-old Kendall Smith lives in Tallahassee, Fla. And this year, she graduates from high school. Among the traditions leading up to graduation is Grad Bash, a big trip to Universal Studios theme park in Orlando.

KENDALL SMITH: It's basically something that we hear about since we're a freshman. And I remember hearing about it and hearing about all the memories and seeing them on Snapchat and Instagram and being so excited about going with my friends.

NEIGHMOND: For 21-year-old Waverly Hart, a senior at the College of Wooster in Ohio, one of the most memorable graduation events is I.S. Monday, which stands for independent study, and celebrates seniors finishing their thesis.

WAVERLY HART: And all the seniors skip classes. And there's a huge parade, and everybody on campus cheers us on. And that's something that we've been looking forward to since we were admitted to Wooster. And now we won't get to experience that ever.

NEIGHMOND: Both events were canceled. The students are understandably sad, says psychiatrist Ludmila De Faria, mourning the loss of what they were supposed to be doing at this time in their lives.

LUDMILA DE FARIA: The society-driven milestones and internal milestones was put on pause, so it's almost like they are forced to regress a little bit, or at least not progress as expected on their developmental milestone while we're in the middle of the pandemic.

NEIGHMOND: De Faria works with student mental health at Florida State University. She says college students aren't just losing milestones; they're also losing their support group.

DE FARIA: They are moving away from their families of origin in a process that we call individuating. And they are finding their group, their identity and their ability to take care of themselves. And people that they live around, roommates in college become their primary source of support. And they lost that suddenly.

NEIGHMOND: Which can be traumatic for a generation, she says, that already suffers high levels of anxiety.

DE FARIA: All of those vulnerable kids are even more at risk for developing any type of clinical anxiety and clinical depression and probably will require accessing some sort of help from home.

NEIGHMOND: Parents might be at a loss for how to reassure their children at a time of such great uncertainty. Psychologist Lynn Bufka is spokesperson for the American Psychological Association.

LYNN BUFKA: It's unprecedented for all of us, but it's completely new for teens and young adults. And they also don't have the wealth of experiences that older individuals have with transitions. So they're figuring out how to do transitions, manage change and within an environment where everything seems upside-down for them.

NEIGHMOND: She says navigating the unknown can be helped if young people stay connected - physical distance, yes, but virtual group chats, dinners and even movie watching can be fulfilling. And from the experience of previous pandemics, she says it also helps to keep this in mind.

BUFKA: This may be hard, but we're in it together, and we're in it to benefit the larger community and to have a good impact on overall health and well-being.

NEIGHMOND: As exemplified by 18-year-old Kendall Smith.

SMITH: As disappointed as we all are that we're missing out on these important milestones in our life, we do understand that this virus is killing people, that if we don't sacrifice these things, then we will contribute to the problem and we might be the reason that a student takes home that virus to their family.

NEIGHMOND: Smith is a high school senior who doesn't know yet whether graduation itself will be canceled.

Patti Neighmond, NPR News.


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