At homes across the country, online learning is suddenly the new normal. At my own house, we are adapting to virtual schooling one day at a time. As a parent, my job is to support my two teenagers who have vastly different profiles: An independent 18-year-old and a 15-year-old with slow processing speed and a math disability.
The good news is that by the time our kids reach high school age, we know a lot about how they learn and how we can support this learning—along with their emotional needs, says Ana Homayoun, an educator and author of three books including That Crumpled Paper Was Due Last Week: Helping Disorganized and Distracted Boys Succeed in School and Life. Here are Homayoun’s 6 tips for how parents can help their teenagers make the transition to distance, online learning:
1. Create a consistent morning routine.
Ask your teen to identify 3-5 activities that set them up for a successful day. This is different for everyone: Some need a big breakfast, others need to walk the dog or say hello to a friend virtually and some might need to shower and get dressed before learning begins.
Make a list with your kids and post this list where they will see it every day. And remember that a regular sleep schedule—with a consistent bedtime and wake-up time—helps us stay emotionally and physically healthy.
2. Scaffold learning.
Some students who didn’t need help with learning before might need support now, so check in to see what kind of help they need for this new type of learning. Parents might need to adjust their previous high standards to meet their student’s current learning pace. At my own home, I’m learning alongside my younger teen for part of every day. And while my senior doesn’t need learning help, she tells us that everyone staying positive helps her get through these days.
3. Step away from tech and move.
Some schools have moved to live-streaming the classroom (synchronous learning) while other schools are giving students tasks to complete on their own schedule (asynchronous learning).
For those with a set, live-streaming schedule, students should plan to step away from all media and move their bodies throughout the day, even if they only have a 15-minute break.
Asynchronous learners still need dedicated time away from tech that is spent exercising. Exercise is a known mood booster, and 30 to 60 minutes a day, even done in brief 7-minute spurts, will make a big difference.
4. Identify what they can still do.
When our teens are faced with so many things they can no longer do, including seeing their friends in person, it’s good to ask them what they still have control over. Now that they have more free time at home, what is something new—or an old favorite—that they want to do with that time? We’ve been using our drawing skills to make cards for friends and family, and my older daughter has decided that her sister needs to help with baking sweet treats.
5. Deal with disappointment.
From canceled trips to canceled proms, there is plenty to be disappointed about right now. Parents need to find private space to process their own grief over these cancellations. This processing makes it easier for parents to empathize when their kids mention their own disappointments. The fact is, we aren’t going to have the spring we imagined, but we can lead our teenagers through the spring we are going to have, which includes finding new ways to have joy.
6. Press pause on distance learning.
During these stressful days, completing schoolwork won’t work for everyone. COVID-19 is hitting some families harder than others, and if the stress of distance learning is one stress too many, hit pause and take a break.
Many times, parents are concerned about potential learning loss, and the reality is that mental and emotional health are most important. There are ways to make up for the content learning later on, so for now, focus on social, emotional and physical wellness. Be flexible in understanding that these are not normal times. Taking an afternoon to walk the dogs, bake a cake or relax and do nothing might be the most important assignment of the day.
Sylvan is here for you and your teen.
With Sylvan’s live, online tutoring programs, our certified teachers can help your teen right from your own home! We’re here for your teen during these uncertain times, and we’re ready to be your academic wingman.
Seattleite Nancy Schatz Alton is an author, teacher, poet, and frequent contributor to Your Teen magazine at www.YourTeenMag.com.