Last week we got the email we were expecting: Our school would be switching to online learning. In some ways, it was good to know. For weeks the speculation had been weighing on my kids (and me). Then came the questions.
“How will we take tests?”
“Will we still do small groups?”
“I haven’t gotten any Zoom links, and my class is in an hour.”
Anxiety is already part of teen life. Add in these new uncertainties associated with school, and the problems multiply—for parents and teens.
JC Pohl, a professional counselor who has worked with high schools across the country on such issues as bullying, substance abuse and body image, is now also helping families cope with new challenges. With the uncertainty this school year brings, many teens are frustrated and feeling isolated both socially and academically. Here’s some of the advice he shares about these issues.
1.Try a solution mindset.
How can parents help teens stay motivated in the face of uncertainty? Pohl recommends giving teens ownership of the situation by prompting them to think through possible outcomes. “I’m a big fan of using the phrase ‘I wonder …’. As in, ‘I wonder how this will turn out?’ or ‘I wonder how this will go?'” Ask teens what they think; this will help create a solution-focused mindset. “Instead of focusing on the problem, help the teen focus on the solution. Teens get excited about solving a problem.”
2. Keep kids talking with teachers.
Asking questions can be a challenge for some high schoolers. Factor in the lack of face-to-face time, and the curve is steeper. In Pohl’s conversations with both students and teachers, he hears often that communication is the number-one factor for success with online learning. Communication needs to go both ways, so parents can and should step in as needed and encourage their teens to work with teachers to set a schedule for the week. Then, help your teen break that schedule into chunks so it doesn’t feel so overwhelming.
3. Encourage independent learning.
One downside to online learning: There is no bell to keep you on time. But there’s also an upside. Having no bell and no teacher standing over you to remind you about assignments can foster independent learning. “In college/university, your professors didn’t care if you showed up. You had to read the book, do small groups, take the test. For high schoolers, it is healthy to learn these skills that they will use in college/university and in life,” says Pohl. By positioning these perceived negatives as positives, parents can help teens not see they are actually learning new skills.
4. Invite honest conversations.
No matter how school is going this year, having honest conversations with your teens will be an important avenue to overcoming any anxiety. Asking questions like, “How are you feeling about this change?” or “How can I help you handle this?” can go a long way in helping your teen feel like you are there for them. Pohl recommends having these conversations outside of the home—on a walk, going on a drive, on a trip to get coffee. “The kitchen is where curfew and Wi-Fi battles are fought; get your teens out of the normal space where they can communicate with you as a growing adult. We always want to parent so hard and tell them what to do. Now is the time to listen to what they’re saying, and ask them questions about what they’re doing. We need to help them figure it out.”
Julie Grippo Schuler is the parent of two teens and a frequent contributor to Your Teen magazine at www.YourTeenMag.com.