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How to support your grieving graduate during a pandemic

FILE - In this Friday, June 1, 2018, file photo, graduates are silhouetted against the green landscape as they line up to receive their diplomas at Berkshire Community College's commencement exercises at the Shed at Tanglewood in Lenox, Mass. Some lenders advertise their products as a way to pay for college, but these arent technically student loans. For unsuspecting students, that could lead to unnecessarily high costs and a lack of consumer protection. (Gillian Jones/The Berkshire Eagle via AP, File)
FILE - In this Friday, June 1, 2018, file photo, graduates are silhouetted against the green landscape as they line up to receive their diplomas at Berkshire Community College's commencement exercises at the Shed at Tanglewood in Lenox, Mass. Some lenders advertise their products as a way to pay for college, but these arent technically student loans. For unsuspecting students, that could lead to unnecessarily high costs and a lack of consumer protection. (Gillian Jones/The Berkshire Eagle via AP, File)

Students graduating high school in 2020 were born just after 9/11 and are entering adulthood in the middle of a pandemic -- without a doubt, two life-shaping events for most Americans.

What should parents watch for as these teens prepare for their next chapter and how can they provide support?

For high school seniors, there has been very little pomp this year because of the circumstances. COVID-19 meant graduation outdoors with restrictions. Spring activities didn’t happen. Neither did prom.

“Everyone had bought their dresses. People had dates,” said Olivia Kisiday, a 2020 graduate.

“I think as a parent, you know the milestones she’s missing out on,” said mom, Julie Manson.

“You want to close the book. You want to move on to the next chapter,” said Abbie Manson, a 2020 graduate.

Mental health experts say U.S. teens were experiencing alarming levels of anxiety and depression before COVID. Now they say kids have increased feelings of loss.

“What they are experiencing is probably not that different than grief,” explained Dr. Elizabeth Koschmann, a research scientist at the University of Michigan.

Koschmann is the director of a youth mental health intervention program. The program works with kids ages 8 through 18 by practicing coping strategies. It’s been successful in reducing anxiety and depression symptoms.

Koschmann said parents should watch for signs their teen is struggling with depression, like a change in personality. A teen may withdraw or sleep excessively.

Parents should validate their child’s feelings of loss. Support them in ways they can be social with peers, for example, using tech. Help them develop coping skills, like outdoor exercise.

“Model self-reflection and say, ‘When I feel overwhelmed, I go for a walk.’ Or, ‘When I feel really lethargic and unmotivated, I force myself to go for a run. What are you doing?‘” continued Koschmann.

Find ways to celebrate their success as grads move to the next chapter.

Trails to Wellness offers COVID-19 mental health resources for parents, families, and school professionals on their website www.trailstowellness.org.