Missing Milestones in the Age of COVID-19

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In order to protect our families, friends, and communities and reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus, aka covid-19, we have been asked to social distance. We must stay six feet away from others, businesses have shut down, and schools have transitioned to distance learning formats. Life as we have known it has been canceled.

Birthdays, quinceañeras and sweet sixteen parties, proms, graduations, field days, field trips, senior days, and sports seasons have all been canceled or postponed. These once-in-a-lifetime experiences to which young people have been looking forward for several months and worked hard for years to reach are just gone. Missing out on milestones, the significant events and celebrations which serve as a clear cut signal for change and achievement and mark new chapters in our lives, leaves youth to grieve what was, what should have been, and leaves them without closure.

The fear of missing out, or FOMO, is no longer just a concept or that phrase that people jokingly say about their friends and significant others, it is the reality for our youth during this pandemic. They are left mourning lost opportunities and rites of passage as well as a loss of their sense of security. In addition, they are faced with uncertainty about what else they may miss out on. New high school graduates may worry about whether they will get to have the typical college experience where they stay in a dorm, attend large lectures, or even attend any classes in person. New college graduates may be concerned about whether they will be able to find jobs with so many businesses shut down. Incoming high school freshmen who have missed out on their first class trip to the beach and 8th grade formal dance may wonder if this will happen to them again when they become high school seniors.

What does grief look like in youth?

Missing out on milestones and the fear of possibly missing out on future milestones has many youth grieving right now. In children, adolescents, and young adults this grief may look like: 

  • sadness
  • anxiety 
  • behavior changes
  • anger
  • withdrawal
  • disappointment
  • change in appetite
  • sleep problems (difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep or sleeping a lot)

It may look like the cycle of grief experienced with other losses: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance.

How do we help our youth get through the grief of missing out?

Let them know it’s okay to feel the loss. For many youth, this may be the first time they have experienced loss. Loss is painful, confusing, and complicated and can sometimes make a person feel out-of-control. Allow them to talk about and acknowledge their feelings about what they have missed and any fears about what may happen next. Young people need to know that it is normal to experience whatever feelings they have, that their feelings are valid, and grief is experienced over a period of time.

Encourage youth to be present in the moment. With so much uncertainty around what is happening on top of feelings around missing out on all the plans they had, activities such as journaling and mindfulness can help youth be more present and grounded in the moment instead of getting caught up in the what-ifs or what should have been and worrying about what will be. 

Foster acceptance. Acceptance comes when we acknowledge the reality of things and let go of trying to change it. It is terrible, traumatic, and cannot be changed that these once in a lifetime events have been missed. However, we can adapt and get through it. We can focus on the things we can control. Consider asking youth what type of, or if they even want, a nontraditional celebration (i.e., parades and virtual parties) and include them in the planning. Also, maintaining a daily routine and having structure can help young people feel like things are less out of control and provide a sense of normalcy.

Practice compassion and encourage self-compassion. Do not tell children, adolescents, and young adults to “get over it” or “you have so much to be grateful for.” The reality is that this is a confusing and painful time. These words dismiss their feelings and experiences. Instead, think about what you would want someone to say to you when you have experienced a loss or trauma. Show your young person compassion, help them discover ways to treat themselves with compassion and care, and validate their feelings.

Seek out additional support. If it seems like the child, adolescent, or young adult in your life is having a hard time navigating the losses and new fears they are experiencing as a result of missing out on milestones, you can:

  • Reach out to us at Milestones Counseling and Consulting Services at 443-574-4295
  • Call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255
  • Text hello to 741741 (The Crisis Textline)

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