Back to high school...COVID-style: a guide for parents

Updated: Jan 2

School is not the same as it used to be. The age old routine of going to school, maybe doing an after school activity or sport, and coming home is not the norm currently. This places major stress on your kid(s) and you. Trying to cope with the unpredictability of so many things…remote vs in-person schooling, sickness or health, whether the school will go all virtual if people get sick, will sports be a thing again, peer relations, the quality of remote learning, and more, is plaguing families going back to school this academic year. So what is a parent to do? One approach to consider is allowing expression of disappointment or negative feelings and validating what your teen is feeling. Try this first before trying to give advice to your kid on how to cope. 

Whether your teen is fully remote, partly in-person, or some other option, high school can be a very tough time for families. Socialization and peer interactions are foundational to cognitive growth, social skills, and identity development. These interactions have drastically changed in style and quantity for some. 

If your high schooler is unable to fist bump friends, sit with them at lunch, hang out, and chat in the halls, it makes sense that your kid may be FaceTime-ing or snapchatting more than they may have before. Your teen may have the opposite issue and feel bored and isolated and feel it's not worth keeping in touch with people if they can't be in person. Either way, talk with your teen about how they feel and try to validate their emotions before giving tips or advice.

It might be important to be a little more flexible on facetime use since your teen isn't able to have the in person connection as much while also maintaining rules on electronics use. In the 80s and 90s movies would depict families annoyed about the teen hogging the landline, but things are different. Teens can communicate on any screen at their disposal. If you notice it seems excessive or interfering with daily activities like sleep, meals, school etc., you may want to have a discussion with your kid and create a time frame for which screen time is allowed. Or set up check-ins on homework completion before using screens for social reasons. 

Some teens enjoy learning and working hard academically. Though, depending on the school, the type of academic interaction might be very different. It can now include a predominance of packet work or self-directed assignments and less socratic thinking interactions. Teens (and adults) might find this less than inspiring. Trying to have empathy for the monotony and keeping a supportive stance might help your teen keep trying.

Others may enjoy the social or non-academic features that high school offers. Sports, music, theater etc. are either cancelled (depending on the school) or are modified for virtual. Your kid may easily adapt to the loss or new version of things or may be upset. Your kid may feel irritated by the restrictions a pandemic world imposes on all of us. Validating the loss of a typical school year might help let them know you hear them and get it. You could even consider sharing something you miss as well, or see if they can find a silver lining about the current state of school. Expressing your own disappointment with their situation but indicating some hope that things might get back to normal eventually can help your kid learn to have mixed emotions: I can be irritated/disappointed and also keep on trying and hoping for the best. 

You could also help encourage your teen to come up with "good enough" options that aren't ideal or their favorite but might be better than nothing. For example, still practicing a sport or working on conditioning. Recording themselves playing an instrument or performing a monologue could help keep their interest and passion for the activity alive even though it isn't exactly the same as years past.

Your teen may resent your attempts to be more involved or talk about feelings. At the same time, it makes sense to check in and let them know that you are someone they can talk to about things big or small. If your teen is struggling to self motivate to get out of the house and do things, you might be able to help. You can ask them to help you with something outside or that requires a trip or let them know you as a family are going to a park or the beach.

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