Updated: May 21
With so many teens home from school for the foreseeable future, what are some of the ways parents can support their teens for online learning?
Set up an organized space and a dedicated time, preferably morning hours, for online work, if you are working from home too. You won’t need a color coded daily schedule for the week. You are not a school. Having a general schedule is ideal but don’t break it down to subjects and hours. Not every hour of social studies in a regular classroom is a solid hour of instruction. It includes a number of activities that are hard to replicate online. So, don’t use that as your gage when making a schedule. Include outdoor time and breaks. End your day early, break up your day, or allow for night time work.
Teens have different schedules and tend to stay up later than young ones. Some might actually prefer to work at night. Be flexible with this. Remember, schools run in the daytime to accommodate the workforce. You don’t have to do that anymore! Collaborate with your teens on when is the best time they want to work as well. An hour in the morning and an hour at night will give them more freedom during the day to explore other topics and concepts that they are actually interested in.
Allow for frequent breaks. Students struggle to work continuously for more than 15 minutes at a time. In general, between grades 7-9, allow for 1 hour of online worktime a day. Do not exceed this. For older grades, 10-12, no more than 3 hours a week! Keep in mind, each class in school is not bell to bell instruction, nor is it a solid work period every day. Remember, when teens are in class, they learn through different modes, they don’t sit in front of computers teaching themselves. They also have elective courses that allow for diversity in learning during the day. 1 or 2 hours of actual work a day is more than a teen can handle online.
Set timers for breaks and allow for some virtual interaction with friends via facetime or calling. It is tempting to limit screen time or group texting. Remember, teens spend hours in their day socializing with peers. They are missing this. They are lonely. The abruptness of this change is causing many of them to feel completely isolated. Some of their friends are living in not so ideal home environments and schools were their safe place where they could bond and share in their struggles. Ask your teens to check in on their friends to see how things are going for them. Teach them how to use language like “Tell me how I can help?” “Sounds like you are having a tough day, tell me more,” or “I’m thinking of you. Can we have lunch together while I facetime you?”
Do something else to break up the day. Make a snack, or house chores together, as they need to do something different with their brain during these breaks. Remember, online learning will not include foods class, culinary arts, woods hop, auto body, art, music, etc. Teens need to use other parts of their brain in order to thrive. You can take a dance break, fix something in the house, let them help you with paying bills online, ask teens to look up recipes, or how to restore a piece of furniture, etc. Teens love helping you and making constructive use of their time!
Allow for music. Teens are not accustomed to silent workspaces, unless they require something like that due to sensory accommodation that would require them to work in silent spaces at school, otherwise, they are accustomed to working in close proximity to 20-40 people in one room. Silence can be deafening for some of them and can cause their mind to drift or even make them anxious. Most classrooms play background music. This calms them down. Also, avoid bright lights. Most classrooms use natural light or some use the smart TV or smart board lights alone. Being in artificial light can cause migraines and affect their mood. Also, watch for the brightness on screens. Teens don’t spend hours a day in front of computers. This can be quite the adjustment for them.
Focus on virtual tours, storytelling by celebrities, documentaries, and all the amazing resources that have now become free for students. Use the topics of the curriculum on their online course as your guide and go from there. Allow for teens to use this as an opportunity to explore what they are the most interested in. This is a golden opportunity for this, something they could have never had the time to do when they are in school.
Do your own thing! Teens are not able to teach themselves a curriculum that is delivered by professionals who spend hours in department meetings and task designing in order to interpret and communicate. Each student knows their own learning capacity. Trust them. If they can’t do something, don’t pressure them. They will fill in these gaps in the future, as teachers are preparing very hard for this.
If things online are not clear and they need support, you can jump in to clarify if you can, but if they are not able to do something, that is something you are allowed to bypass as these online programs do not take into account learning disabilities, student accommodations, one on one teacher support, etc., and therefore, much of this early online learning will not be assessed in the same way in order to remain equitous for those shortcomings.
Have some downtime to reflect and journal. Teens learn better when they reflect by either having group discussions or applying their knowledge. Have a discussion about what they are doing online. Offer your experience or real-world experience. Try to make real world connections for them. You’ve got this wealth of knowledge they crave from their teachers and classroom discussions. Be mindful of any bends or your own biases. Allow them to critically think about what they are learning.
Journal! Teens’ journals are the primary sources for what future generations will come to know as a world crisis that changed everything. Encourage them to start a blog or a classroom blog with reflections and observations in the changes they foresee for learners and learning as we know it. If you are comfortable, encourage them to start a vlog, or youtube channel they can share only with friends. This will be a great way to showcase their experiences and their interpretations.
Plan zoom or facetime playdates. Let them spend time on their chats. Social interaction is the most fundamental aspect of school. It now looks very different when at home, but it remains so important. Teens miss their friends. They miss their teams and their sports. The only way to communicate now is through technology. So, even if that means facetiming while watching a documentary together, it is important to allow for this.