Advice for parents of graduating high school seniors: Let them eat cake! A Harvard health expert weighs in

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This is a tip sheet for parents from DecoPac, a partner in bringing celebrations to life and the world's largest supplier of cake decorations. If you are a parent of graduating high school senior, you may be in a quandary as to how - or if - you should timestamp this milestone in your teenager's life. Harvard health expert Ellen O'Donnell says it's more important than ever. She weighs in with "the why - and how."

Who could forget a cake with featuring your high school senior's photo!

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"Most importantly, don’t let this milestone slip by unrecognized; it’s especially crucial for those students who struggled in high school," said Ellen O'Donnell, PhD.,a pediatric psychologist at Mass General Hospital for Children, an instructor at Harvard Medical School.

High school graduation is usually a celebratory rite of passage. But for most of the 3.7 million students in the Class of 2020, the typical end-of-year traditions have been wiped away by Covid-19, including commencement ceremonies and festive parties meant to timestamp this milestone. To temper the disappointment, how might parents bring some joy back to students feeling the loss? Could it be as simple as celebrating with a cake? It’s a start.

“Your senior year, and especially spring semester, is a combination of celebration and mourning. We see cliques breaking down and classmates bonding as they reminisce and start preparing themselves to launch into adulthood,” said Ellen H. O’Donnell, Ph.D., a pediatric psychologist at Mass General Hospital for Children, an instructor at Harvard Medical School, and author of the parenting book, Bless This Mess. “And now instead, the anticipated ‘senior slack’ is spent sheltering at home. We’re asking teens to behave as if they are depressed. I’m hearing from teens who are questioning whether they want to go to college in the fall. There’s a lack of structure. Kids are retreating to their bedrooms. And they can get stuck, lose their momentum, and for some, lapse into an unhealthy limbo. Most importantly, don’t let this milestone slip by unrecognized; it’s especially crucial for those students who struggled in high school.”

O’Donnell shares ways that parents can help their graduates:

  • Find a way to replicate the emotional part of commencement. Receiving your diploma on stage and the firm handshake from the dean or principal is a significant moment of recognition – you did it! Parents—let your students hear “congratulations” from you and others who serve as role models.
  • Graduation ceremonies and spring banquets allow parents to see their kids shine and give their students closure. Senior skip day, corny speeches, a formal outfit, walking the stage, shout outs from friends, and posing for millions of photos for parents. All are absent this year. Parents can recreate the emotions with a mix of new and old rituals. Go ahead and wake them up early on graduation day and make noise, load up your front lawn with signs, and shout out your windows. Order a cake, tie up balloons and dress up for a party, whether small or virtual. Create an emotional experience they will remember.
  • Tie in human connection while social distancing. I fully support the physical restrictions in place, but we need to balance our teens’ physical health with their mental and spiritual health. The car parades students have been doing for one another, decorating cars, honking horns, and celebrating at a distance hold a lot of meaning. It brings a palpable energy that virtual interaction can’t capture. I think there should be a car parade for everyone! A table at the end of the driveway with a box to collect cards and a tray of cupcakes to go gives everyone a feeling of celebration.

“We also have to acknowledge that this is really hard, really sad, and it really sucks. We should not dismiss that,” said O’Donnell. “But any celebration can be significant.”

“We want to congratulate the graduating class of 2020,” said John Gardner, DecoPac Vice President of Sales. “We know that you will emerge stronger and with an appreciation for our global connectedness as you go forth into the world, young adults with wisdom beyond your years. And don’t forget the wise words of Julia Child – ‘a party without a cake is just a meeting.’”

Download photos: Our health expert, logo, and graduation cakes from DecoPac!

About DecoPac, Inc:

DecoPac, Inc. is the world's largest supplier of cake decorations to professional cake decorators and bakeries in the world.

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For media inquiries:

Carolyn Will
Carolyn@cwcommunications.info
612-414-9661

Susan Ritt
susan@cwcommunications.info
651-335-1834

http://www.cwcommunications.info

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Carolyn Will

Susan Ritt
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since: 12/2009
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