In our daily practice with adolescents and their parents at Solutions Northshore, we encounter many unique situations. There is one thing we have found to be universally true, however: Parents struggle when their children struggle. And right now, many of our children are struggling. We have just completed our 6th month of pandemic restrictions and there is still no end in sight. School is back in session, but for many, it is all, or at least partially, virtual. To help us all understand what many teens are dealing with, we spoke with two high school students who have allowed us to share what their lives have been like since school started this year. We will use pseudonyms to protect their privacy.
"Jake," has been attending high school completely virtually this year. He is a senior who usually enjoys going to school and being involved in several extra-curricular activities. This is how Jake describes his current life:
School has been challenging. I attend classes online seven hours a day, from 8am until 3pm. That means seven hours of sitting by myself in my room, in front of a computer screen. It is really tiring, much more tiring than in-person school. And, it’s harder to pay attention. The teachers are teaching, but I feel like the learning is more independent this year. You really have to be self-motivated. Also, the teachers make us keep our cameras on, so I have to look at myself on the screen all day, which I hate. It makes me feel self-conscious and there is no place to hide or just blend in. I even have to do gym, in my tiny room, with my camera turned on!After school, I am still doing my extracurricular activities, but they are also on Zoom. They feel so different now – more awkward and tiring. I really miss the social interactions and fun that used to come with going to school. Now I dread the days instead of looking forward to them. We don’t get any of the fun parts of school this semester, like talking to friends and cracking jokes between classes or during natural classroom lulls. And, as a senior, I am missing out many of the milestones I had looked forward to this year. But, honestly, I try not to think about what I am missing. I try to stay hopeful that we will get to do some of those things this spring.
"Emma" is a junior who has also been attending high school completely online this year. Here is what she has to say about it:
The biggest issue I have with doing school online is the boredom. It’s just boring to sit at a desk on Zoom, 24/7. It gets tedious doing the same thing all day, every day. There is little to no excitement throughout the day. They do give us 15 minute breaks in between classes and one hour for lunch. That is really nice because I get to rest my eyes. The first few weeks of school I was getting really bad headaches from staring at the screen all day. Some people work on homework during the breaks, but I think it’s better to get away from my computer during that time. Because we really miss seeing each other at school, my friends and I tried getting together for lunch in one of our back yards a few times, but we stopped because there really wasn’t enough time. A lot of kids feel like we are getting more homework now, but I feel like that might be because there is less of a distinction between class work and homework since it is all computer work. I also feel like I have been procrastinating more. Since I have more time on my hands after school, I tend to put off doing my homework until really late in the evening. Luckily, I can wake up for my first class literally two minutes before it starts. Because my older sister is in college, I do my classes in her room so that I can separate where I do school from where I sleep. Sitting in my bed would make me way too tired. Even the clubs I do after school are not as much fun since they are also all on Zoom. It kind of feels like I am back in class again instead of having fun with my friends. I also play an instrument in my school’s band. While we have been meeting in person once a week to practice together, there is not much motivation to practice or play at home since we do not have a concert we are working towards. My advice to kids who are having a hard time would be to text and Facetime your friends and classmates throughout the day and take breaks from being on your computer.
Thanks to these candid accounts, we can all have a better understanding of what many of our teens are feeling and we can gain some insight into helping those who may not be coping as well as “Jake” and “Emma.” Here are our suggestions for how you, as parents, can help your adolescents get through this difficult time:
Give your teen space to manage his or her day. Check in later and encourage talks about what went well and how your teen was able to successfully navigate today’s challenges.
To help your teen combat boredom, suggest they get up and move around throughout the day, including changing up where they work from time to time, if possible.
Ask your teen what he or she needs from you. Negotiate reasonable requests and make sure you follow through.
Teens typically do not like to hear “I understand.” Instead, just listen and, where possible, help them with ways to problem solve.
Encourage your teen to focus on what they have control over. It is okay if, at times, they need to vent. Try not to jump in and solve your teen’s struggles. Instead, help them to refocus on choices they have and tools to get through.
Check your teens’ stress levels, and help them come up with ways to decompress such as deep breathing, music, hobbies, or a funny video or show.
Encourage healthy self-care such as a consistent sleep schedule, diet, and exercise.
Plan regular family time and ways to enjoy the weekends even during COVID.
As a parent, routinely check your own stress level and make sure you take care of yourself. Your stress and how you manage it will directly affect your teen.
Help your teen recognize that there will be disappointments this year and reassure him or her that together, as a family, each of you will get through this.