Is Your Teen Struggling with Online Learning? Six Things They Can Do to Get Through This

My high school sophomore sighed heavily the other day right after finishing all his online school work, then looked at me and said, “I can’t do school online. I just can’t. I need people. I need a teacher teaching in front of me in real life. I need to get up, get dressed, drive to school, and get out of this house everyday. I need to be back at school.”

It’s no wonder my son already feels defeated with school being cancelled. ([email protected])

My heart sank, because I know the chances of him returning to his school this year are all but nonexistent, and the tragic reality is, he will likely be forced to do school like this – online and unfamiliar, until this fall. He is not a student who struggles academically (I know this is a huge blessing right now) and rarely does he complain about his school workload, but removing him from a setting that he excels in, and dumping him into a foreign one that he has no idea how to self manage and navigate, is turning out to be much more difficult than either of us anticipated.

It’s not only the loss of his social peers near him, of not being able to interact with friends on a daily, and doing regular ‘teen’ things like sports, clubs, etc., it’s also the loss of a general daily routine (even adults right now are struggling mightily with this fact.) Now add a completely unfamiliar and new kind of instructional format on top of all the other new chaos, and it’s no wonder he is already feeling defeated, and worried he can’t do this type of school for the long haul. 

Online learning for high school is here to stay this year

Unfortunately, online instruction isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, and it’s highly likely that a majority of high schools will not even think about returning until at least late April at the earliest, and there are several states that have already pulled the plug on the remainder of this school year entirely. This means these students (my son included) who are unaccustomed to virtual teaching have no other choice than to hurry up and, well, quickly grow accustomed to it. But what are some ways we as parents can help our struggling students do this, and during such a stressful home environment time already, how can we make going to school at home more bearable, and maybe even enjoyable? 

Tips to help teens adjust to online learning

Erin Koehne is a high school guidance counselor at St. Xavier High School in Cincinnati, Ohio, and she has some great insight into ways our students can more successfully adjust to learning online and at home.

1. Be patient – teachers and administrators are all trying to figure this out

First, she says we need to remember that this situation is difficult and unprecedented for everyone involved, including the teachers and high school administrators, so if the students are feeling overwhelmed and distressed, just imagine how the people behind the scenes who have also been thrown into a new way of doing their jobs probably feel.

For that reason, we all need to allow ourselves a whole lot of patience right now while the kinks are worked out, and parents need to be rest assured that teachers still have their student’s best interests in mind. Having said that, it may take a few adjustments to meet all the needs of all their students,  to get a better grasp on who is going to need extra help and who isn’t, and figure out what kind and method of online instruction is going to work the best for the most students. 

2. Schedule one-on-one time with teachers

After that, students who do require what would normally be “tutoring after school,” would need to make the same kind of arrangements with their teachers. In this case that may be a one-on-one FaceTime session, which is also ideal for students who are finding group collaborative type visual conferencing like Zoom to be too distracting, or perhaps they find it embarrassing to be on camera the entire time. (Picture a normal classroom where all students are looking straight ahead at teacher, and now picture Zoom, where they’re all looking at each other’s faces. Some students will not enjoy that fact.)

3. Get permission to set up a study group

Another option is to have your student ask their teacher if they’re permitted to set up their own study groups for the class, and if so, then your student can virtually meet with their classmate friends separately, and a smaller online group may be more ideal for concentrating and/or reviewing the day’s content. Remember, there is a lot of wiggle room to be had here, and now is the time for kids to be extra creative with how they get things done, and to work together with their teachers to find workarounds if at all possible.

4. Be creative in structuring the day

Koehne also reminds us that online school at home will in no way replicate (or even attempt to replicate) a regular school day, so students who thrive on the comfort of that kind of routine may need more time to adjust. She suggests it’s a great idea to actually take advantage of the fact this type of school is not like regular school, and for that reason, students have more leeway in how they can structure their day.

For example, while they can, go ahead and let your teen get that extra sleep in the morning (if their school is not requiring an early morning check-in type of attendance that is.)

5. Schedule and take regular breaks

If their work is more independently based, make sure they give themselves regular breaks, instead of pushing through to just get it done and finished, suggest chunks of learning. Even though regular school is done daily by 3 p.m., there is no reason online school needs to keep those same hours. At first, my son just wanted to get his word all done in one sitting so he could have the rest of his day free, but that meant he was starring at the screen for too long at a time and not only zoning out, but taking no breaks to eat or recharge his batteries. It wasn’t working at all for him, hence the frustration early on. 

6. Try learning in different ways and settings

Finally, Koehne suggests we remind our kids that they don’t have to actually SIT to learn! Since they’re not in a classroom, they can put in their AirPods and walk around and listen to the teacher, or sit on that old yoga ball you have and do some bicep curls while learning. School can be in the backyard, or outside anywhere there is sufficient social distancing.

It’s important to think outside the “box” of brick and mortar school, and right now since none of our students are literally in the school building “box,” it’s the perfect time to do this. Release some of the pressures you and your student are putting on themselves for how school at home is supposed to be done and look like, and find what works for you and your student.

In the same way you’ve managed to tailor many other things specifically to your family during adolescence so far, do the same with online school, and don’t worry if it doesn’t look like what everyone else is doing. We’re all in unprecedented territory right now, high school included, so give yourself some grace, and take plenty of deep breaths together.

You Might Also Want to Read:

A Love Letter From All of Us to Our Kids’ Teachers

Why Social Distancing is So Difficult for Adolescents

About Melissa Fenton

Melissa Fenton is a freelance writer and adjunct librarian at Pasco-Hernando State College. Find her writing all over the internet, but her work mostly on the dinner table. Find her on Facebook 
and on twitter at @melissarunsaway

Read more posts by Melissa

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