Prom is Cancelled - Helping Teens to Cope with Losses

Shopping for a dress or a suit. Getting an updo or a haircut. Choosing a corsage or a boutonniere. Planning the logistics of the night. Taking selfies and pictures together. In one single event, there are so many elements for teens to look forward to with their peers, but this year, prom is just one more event cancelled.

The pandemic has created countless losses for so many, causing disappointment, frustration, sadness, isolation, and time away from friends and family. For teens, however, the losses they experience during the pandemic are magnified.

Starting from birth parents are the center of their child’s universe. Every positive interaction with their mom, dad, or caregiver fills young children with delight and joy, feeding their self-worth and self-esteem. But as children grow from preschool through elementary school, parents will notice that with each passing year, the importance of friends grows more and more significant to their child. And while the relationship with their parents remains paramount, when children reach adolescence their focus of attention changes from their parents to their peers.

Teens have strong, healthy motives to be with their friends. It is a defining and integral part of their social development. Teenagers become acutely more concerned with what their friends think, what their friends are doing and prefer to be with their friends than with their parents or relatives. Friends can be a source of joy and happiness, providing connection and mutual understanding. But because adolescence can already be a stressful time marked by academic and social demands, friendships are vital as they help teens to cope with the ups and downs of their days.

So what happens when those coping mechanisms are only available remotely?

The isolation that many teens are experiencing from cancelled activities, remote learning, social distancing, and defining events like the prom and graduation may be causing them severe stress, loneliness, and unhappiness. In turn, these troubling emotions can have negative impacts on their learning making it difficult for them to concentrate, stay motivated, and/or persevere through challenges on their own. And at home, parents may be noticing that they are moody, irritable, angry, overly sad, or distant.

In fact, data released by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) late last year shows that adolescent emergency room admissions for mental health concerns like depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts have increased by 31% since the year prior.*

So what can parents do to counteract the impacts of the pandemic and help their teens increase their connections and resiliency?

While friends may be at the center of their teen’s universe, parents continue to play a crucial part in their child’s well-being. By helping their teen talk about, process, and understand their experience, parents can help their teen transcend their loneliness and isolation. It is important to understand that although teens may look fully grown, they are still maturing. As Ms. Carol Johnson, LCSW, Director of Staff Development,