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  • Michael Ryan

6 Tips for Teens and Parents to Survive Virtual Schooling

Updated: Oct 14, 2020

As a holistic therapist, I look at the mental, emotional, social, and spiritual aspects of an issue. I believe this is the most effective and comprehensive way to get to the root of a problem and find a solution. In this post, I will talk about virtual schooling by considering the many aspects of being a teenager, focusing primarily on one of the most important parts of their lives--relationships.

This pandemic has put a strain on even the healthiest friendships. Most teens I’ve spoken with have been surprised that social media and virtual meet-ups don’t replace face-to-face interactions. They miss their friends, teachers, and the social stimulation in the classroom. Teens have another relationship that is often overlooked. Their (often) intense attachment to their screens—where they chat, watch videos, unwind, and connect with others. If you’ve ever tried to take away a cell phone from an adolescent, you know what I mean! For the first time in their lives, teens must completely depend and rely upon their screens for success in school.

The teenager's dilemna

So, here’s the teen dilemma during this pandemic—I’m not able to meet my need for relationships, AND the school wants me to change the way I interact with the only thing helping me maintain those relationships—my screen. What are teens and parents to do?

1. Relationships with others--talk about friendships and other ways to socialize

First, build up their strength and support system. Their social needs do not disappear in a pandemic. How can they fill this need? Ask them, what challenges do they face maintaining friendships? Have they done anything that helps? Brainstorm alternative ways to socialize—a fitness challenge, group craft, play a game, learn something new (a language, yoga, mindfulness, qi gong), watch a movie, or deepen a religious/spiritual practice. Go for a walk in a park. For virtual meet-ups, have a plan—bring something funny, make lists of your favorite songs, TV shows, or inspirational quotes. Give your meeting a name—“Virtual Crew” or “Pandemic Playtime.” Don’t settle for the mindset of—“It’s just not the same.” (I’ll get to this later.) Helping them connect with others will give them more energy, willpower, and motivation for school.

2. Relationship to virtual school--talk about virtual learning and gently challenge inconsistent thoughts, attitudes, and beliefs

Teens tend toward all-or-none thinking. For example, “Classes are boring, so I can’t pay attention.” If they think one class is boring then they tend to think that all virtual learning sucks. As a famous psychologist once said, that’s stinkin’ thinkin’. Gently and adeptly challenge these beliefs with facts and exceptions.

“You said all of your classes were boring, but you’ve only told me about the one you don't like." Find nuance, glimmers of hope, and positives among the school day. Things might not be as bad as they seem.

3. Relationship with screens

Teens probably won’t know how to, or want to, discuss this, but you can ask, “You usually watch Netflix and talk to your friends on your laptop. I wonder if you feel distracted during class?” If teens associate their screens with fun, how can they listen to teachers? I guarantee their teacher isn’t as exciting as their favorite Netflix show. That’s an unfair competition. If possible, have one screen set aside for learning, and other screens for fun. In MCPS, most schools let students borrow Chromebooks. When teens open their “school screen” their mind is triggered to focus on Algebra and History, and not their number of likes on Instagram. If a separate screen is not an option, try to identify ways for "school time" with a screen to be different than "fun time" with a screen. One possibility is...

4. Relationship to environment, or location, location, location

Provide a separate location for virtual school, including all the supplies they need. Make this space free from distractions and add motivational posters or notes. Tell them to get a snack (dark chocolate and mints may increase focus) and a drink before school begins. Ideally, this is a different spot from their homework space, because this is a different way to learn. Changing their environment will change the associations their brain makes, linking this new environment to a new mindset, and a new virtual reality.

5. Relationship with yourself--take a break

Unplug. Take a brief walk. Stretch. Do

pushups and planks. Take several deep breaths. Become aware of your body again. At least for a few minutes, do not reach for another screen to text a friend. Staring at a screen for an extended time strains your eyes as well as your brain.

6. Relationship to society--discuss and reframe pandemic blues, or...resiliency

One, if not the most important thing to do in a pandemic is not to get the thing causing the pandemic. Everything I previously mentioned is important. Also, help your teen understand this context. Have their standards for success changed during this time? If so, why? What can we do in this new virtual reality to return to those high standards? If their high standards haven't changed, what can be done in this new virtual reality to match their high standards with results? We’re living through history. Talk about safety during a pandemic, and being grateful for what you have—technology, shelter, food, friends, and family. Each day, write down one thing you’re grateful for.

No one can argue that we’re living in normal times, but every challenge brings opportunity. Reassure your teen that this will pass. We will get back to normal. And their mindset of—“It’s not the same”—will eventually be replaced by—“I will persevere.”

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