Your high school senior, junior or sophomore may not be thrilled about his or her new circumstances. “What do you mean, nobody knows when coronavirus will end?” 

Sound familiar?

I talked with a colleague last week whose son, a junior in high school, was signed up for the April ACT. He had a lengthy meeting planned with his guidance counselor about his senior year schedule. Plus, he had two college visits scheduled for March and one in April. 

Another friend’s daughter was set to make her college decision by May 1. She was looking forward to spending time with her friends during these last weeks and going to her best friends’ graduation parties.

As a parent, you may feel grief — the loss of things that will never be. No high school for the rest of the year, no springtime college visits, no graduation ceremony. 

Your son or daughter may feel it, too. Now’s a good time to check in on everyone’s mental health. Here’s how to make sure your high schooler handles all of it well, follows the rules and manages to learn on top of everything else.

1. Make sure social distancing happens. 

Yep, first things first. Teenagers may have a hard time wrapping their heads around COVID, never mind social distancing. High schoolers may developmentally have a difficult time “seeing” the temporary aspects of COVID-19 and envisioning a better future.

Again, social distancing. How many times have you had to explain to your child he can’t hang out in the basement with his usual group of friends?

It’s important not to minimize kids’ frustrations about not seeing friends. Jen DiSessa, parent of T.J., a sophomore, and Will, a freshman, says it’s also important to recognize that all kids are wired to have interactions in the real world, not just in technical spaces. “My boys are pretty anti-social,” she says. “That being said, my oldest told me the other day he needed to see someone he wasn’t related to in person, not on a screen. I think we forget that no matter how anti-social some can be.”

2. Support remote learning efforts if your child’s high school requires them.

It’s easy to back off trying to help with U.S. history after the first snarky, “I can do it myself!” (How do homeschool parents do it?) 

Helping with online and virtual learning may never have been in your playbook, but it’s not in your child’s, either. Your child’s probably not super comfortable with a complete switch to remote learning after more than 10 years in a classroom. 

Continue to offer your support, even if you think it isn’t appreciated.

“As much as our kids don’t ask for in-person communication, they certainly do need it,” says DiSessa. “They want others to experience these things with them!”

3. Continue extracurricular activities — if it’s feasible.

It may be heartbreaking to realize that the state track meet isn’t going to happen this year. Or that a soccer season is over before it even began. (Especially if you expected college coaches to witness the end of your child’s lofty high school athletic career.) 

Is it possible to continue certain extracurricular activities? For example, maybe your daughter’s a thriving musician and she can continue her saxophone lessons on Zoom with her private tutor.

“Our daughter plays both tennis, softball and is also a musician. We have kept her active by continuing her private lessons in tennis and softball, and online piano lessons will begin this week,” says Lisa Knipe, mom to Molly, a freshman in high school. “It’s important to keep life moving in a forward motion so that when students are allowed to return to school and sports, they are prepared,” she adds.

Do what you can to keep things going. Help your child make conditioning, rehearsing and more happen while social distancing. (Hopefully, that doesn’t mean converting the basement to a full-blown workout facility!)

4. Encourage being flexible and adaptable.

Your child’s used to being in a regular classroom every day. He loves kidding around with other students, challenging his teachers and stuffing his face with six PB&Js at lunch.

Now, he’s been locked out of his teachers’ Google Drive documents eight times and has to learn how to use Zoom. To add insult to injury, he must be a teensy bit more motivated to complete some assignments without teacher lecture. 

Now’s a great time for a big life lesson: Change happens. 

Mindful.org has a great line for your kiddo if he’s willing to hear your advice: Open yourself up to learn different ways of doing things and learning. The more you gain confidence in uncertainty, the more adaptable you will be.

Believe it or not, lessons learned during COVID-19 can help during college and in the workplace. (How’s that for a silver lining?)

5. Help your junior (or sophomore) plan.

The only thing that sophomores and juniors need to hear right now is that it’s okay that the college search has ground to a halt. It’s a good idea to talk through a few things you know for sure. Juniors and sophomores will experience:

  • Delayed standardized test-taking. (ACT switched its April 4 test date to June 13 and the May 2 SAT is canceled.) 
  • A drastic change in college visit timing.
  • Curriculum and extracurricular activities will get stuffed into the next academic year.
  • Possible changes in early decision and early action deadlines for colleges. (This only applies to your rising high school senior.) Not sure what these mean? Here it is, quick:
    • Early decision is a binding agreement. This means your son or daughter must attend his or her top-choice college particular. Your high school senior would traditionally apply to that school around November — but that could change with COVID-19.
    • Early action plans are not binding. Your son or daughter would traditionally get an early response to his or her application around January or February but traditionally would not have to commit to a college until the following May 1.

Let’s shift to the positives. 

  • It’s a great time to start making a plan. Ask your child what he or she wants in a college. Which colleges and needs are on your child’s wishlist?
  • Your son or daughter can start applying for scholarships. The College Board offers a scholarship search tool you can look at together.
  • Check out virtual visits. So many sites have them right now! Keep mind that these images are the best a college has to offer. They’ll only show you their most beautiful buildings. You should always visit in person later.

What other foreseeable changes can you pinpoint for your child? Discuss these changes together and how you’ll approach them later on.

6. Help your high school senior navigate. There’s no rulebook here!

If you’re the parent of a high school senior, you might think you have a bit of a mess on your hands. Your child should have been finalizing a college decision by May 1. Patience is a good approach right now.

Carnegie Dartlet’s survey of 4,848 high school students showed that admission offices haven’t all extended the traditional May 1 deposit deadline. However, 67% of students surveyed say they want an extension, at least until June 1.

Most colleges should be in direct communication with you with decisions that impact the fall semester. If you haven’t heard anything from a particular school, reach out to your child’s admission counselor at that school to learn more. Here is a short list of things that you and your senior may want to talk about:

  • Do you both still feel comfortable with your child’s No. 1 choice or do you need to wait?
  • Summer orientation plans: What’s the college’s stance?
  • What’s happening with your college savings (or sudden lack thereof)?

7. Talk about the financial implications.

The media’s done nothing but talk about how the stock market has plunged. You don’t have to look far to see it in your 401(k) and your kiddo’s 529 plan. Your child may not understand that this means COVID-19 could affect your ability to pay for college. Talk about this together.

Thomas Hayes, chairman of Great Hill Capital in New York, says there’s a bright spot on the horizon. “Balanced portfolios may take a hit in the short term, but if you look out 12-24 months, we are looking for a strong recovery,” says Hayes. “The government learned from the last financial crisis and rather than waiting for things to break before stepping in, they have already provided up to $7 trillion of aid and liquidity to fill what is projected to be a $1 to $2 trillion contraction in growth.  This too shall pass and we may wind up better than expected on the other side.”

Even so, all colleges have heaps of families all in the same boat. How will colleges be able to meet families’ ever-pressing needs?

Colleges are still trying to iron out their responses.

Ask the financial aid office or admission counselor at your child’s top choice whether the college will revisit your financial aid award to meet increased levels of need. After all, a job loss or drastic income shift isn’t reflected in your current FAFSA information.

Offer Support and Love

This time is stressful for you. Whether you realize it or not, it may be even more stressful for your high schooler. Make sure you’re checking in with each other. Everyone’s in this together — you, your child, the high school and the college he or she will (soon!) attend.

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