Updated: Nov 9, 2020
The coronavirus pandemic has cast uncertainty over the 2020-2021 school year. As schools across the country continue to adopt flexible learning models, many teenagers are facing a year without institutional structure. You are likely asking yourself: How can I help my teen maintain a healthy and holistic routine from home?
As a parent, you can collaborate with your teen to create an environment and schedule routine that works for them — even if you need to adjust your approach slightly week-by-week to accommodate for their school schedule. Providing structure at home will not only help your teen with their schoolwork, but also provide them with a sense of normalcy during remote and hybrid learning. As you create a back-to-school structure with your teen, consider these five tips:
Create a study space. In a recent Psychology Today article, social psychologist Camille S. Johnson, Ph.D. recommends that parents set up a space that signals to teens that they are “in school.” Minimize distractions by setting up an area with everything your teen will need, like textbooks, chargers, and flashcards. The area should be clear of diversions like video games, TV, and social media. A good rule of thumb: if your teen wouldn’t be able to access it while at their desks at school, they should not have it within arm’s reach of their study space at home.
Set aside time for breaks. Taking a break to socialize or rest is a normal part of your teen’s school experience and should be factored into their remote learning routine. Johnson recommends building “passing periods” into your teen’s schedule, or short breaks for them to take a walk, get a snack, or chat with friends. Johnson notes that like the rest of the school day, “this time should be structured with start and stop times.” Set alarms or calendar invitations to indicate when it’s time to take a brain break and when it’s time to come back to studying.
Prioritize a good night’s sleep. It’s easy for teens to disregard sleep, especially without a strict in-person schedule. However, sleep disruptions may not only undermine teens’ schoolwork, but also impact their emotional health, ability to pay attention, and behavioral control. Talk to your teen about when they feel energized and exhausted and discuss how more sleep can improve their performance in school. To get started, Johnson recommends a firm wake-up time. A bedtime routine is helpful too: leave the cellphone across the room so your teen is not tempted to check social media in bed, and suggest winding down with something relaxing, like reading, meditating, or taking a hot shower.
Model a productive routine. You may doubt that your actions still influence your teen, but Johnson says parents are instrumental in modeling behavior. “We unconsciously mimic and respond to people in our environment,” says Johnson. She recommends that parents help their teens by exhibiting the healthy habits they want to see in their teens during remote learning. “Just as your teen checks their assignments and creates a to-do list for the day over breakfast, you do the same. Just as they stay off social media during work periods, you do the same.” When your teen sees you engaging in healthy habits, it will be easier for them to follow suit.
Treat your body right. Mental and physical health are interconnected, and it’s no surprise that sitting at a screen for hours is detrimental to both. Without in-person school, students miss out on gym class, sports, and even walking between classes. Break up the day with a 30-minute walk or free online exercise videos. You can also work with your teen to make nutritious meals that give them the energy they need to learn. Without structured lunch breaks, it may be easy for your teen to snack all day. Try to keep wholesome food around the house and use the additional time at home as an opportunity to teach your teen to prepare healthy meals.
As you work to establish a healthy remote learning routine for your teen, keep in mind that they “are likely to be anxious, scared, angry, and sad,” especially without in-person socialization or regular outlets like athletics or arts, says Johnson. And while the peer pressure of drug and alcohol use may have lessened as they avoid in-person interactions, it’s still important to talk to your teen about substance abuse. Teens may be tempted to misuse substances around the house out of isolation or boredom, including prescription and over-the-counter medicines. Help your teen work through their feelings during this time of continued uncertainty and monitor your medicine cabinet to ensure nothing goes missing without explanation. For more on how to create healthy routines that benefit your teen’s holistic wellness, check out these related articles: