Crisis Drives a Lack of Access to Services
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, many high schools are adapting by developing online learning platforms. At Shortridge Academy, we’ve instituted what we are calling Shortridge Online. Likewise, many therapists and counselors have transitioned to providing their services online in order to meet the needs of their patients. COVID-19 has left many teens with school closures and a lack of access to therapy and counseling services they may need at this troubling time. Fortunately, taking advantage of distance learning and remote treatment tools can provide many of the same benefits as in-person sessions. This can only be achieved if the right environment and proper expectations are set beforehand.
Develop the Right Mindset
The first step towards a positive distance learning experience is to develop the right frame of mind. Student expectations have been found to play a significant role in one’s experience and academic strategies in a course.[i] Parents should speak with their teen about their feelings around distance learning. Some students may be skeptical, citing a lack of being able to personally interact with friends, while others may harbor the perception that distance learning is somehow inferior to a traditional classroom. Parents should listen to and understand the source of these concerns while being attentive to their children’s emotional needs. However, parents should stress the advantages that distance learning offers compared to in-person classes.
While it has its limitations, distance learning can be a great opportunity to learn in a new way and to make connections with fellow students and teachers. Distance learning offers students the flexibility to approach material at their own pace. It affords students the comfort of being able to attend class from home. It can also be a less intimidating arrangement for students who struggle with socialization or performance in a traditional education setting.[ii] It also grants students much more time to work on hobbies or other pursuits when compared to attending school in-person. Emphasizing such advantages can help make students more receptive to the idea of learning remotely.
Establish Expectations for Behavior
It is important to establish clear expectations for your teen’s distance learning. This includes things as basic as showing up to class and completing assignments on time. It also includes respecting teachers and fellow students and being mindful of the challenges that distance learning can present. For example, students may have to get used to waiting one’s turn to speak, as it can be easy to interrupt someone due to latency over the Internet.
Students may be tempted to use their cell phones or other devices during an online course, so parents should clarify what uses of technology are appropriate during class. It may be useful to set up an agreement beforehand that such devices are placed elsewhere for the duration of class. It is best to approach these subjects with an open-minded discussion, rather than as a strict decree, unless they become a specific problem.
Create a Supportive Environment
A large factor in distance learning’s effectiveness is the student’s environment. If a student has a supportive, distraction-free area in which to learn, they are much more likely to be able to focus and engage with the material. Try to separate the learning environment from distractions. It may be helpful to establish a learning space away from where the student normally engages in leisure time. If physical space for a separate area is not available, one can designate a work space for the duration of class. Make certain that all others in the area stick to quiet activities while class is going on. If this is not possible, students can try using tools like headphones to filter out distracting outside sounds.
Focus on Time Management
Time management is crucial for success in any academic setting, perhaps even more so in a distance learning environment. A lack of time and support for one’s studies has been identified as a common and significant barrier to successful distance learning.[iii] Coming up with a schedule for studying and working on assignments can help students avoid such issues. Try working with your teenager to find the best times of day where they have the energy and the distraction-free environment they need to focus. You can also encourage them to come up with systems that help them stay organized. These tools can include planners or apps that keep track of due dates, test days, and other relevant information.
Distance learning can feel impersonal if interaction with fellow students and teachers isn’t emphasized. Talk with your teen about their willingness to reach out to teachers with questions and ideas about the course. The same goes for working with other students. Forming connections with students through online study groups can easily progress to friendships outside of school. Virtual get-togethers can be low-stress alternatives to in-person activities that may have been intimidating for teens in the past. Forging these relationships is also a large factor in staying motivated. If a student looks forward to working with fellow students and engaging with a teacher, they are much more likely to put effort and attention towards the class. Parents should try and stay communicative with teachers and staff to get feedback on their child’s response to the material. This can also help them address any behavioral or academic issues that may arise.
Tips for Remote Therapy
Many of the same tips that apply to distance learning also apply to remote therapy. Teens who require therapeutic help may be resistant to the idea. It is normal to face such resistance towards the concept of therapy. Try to encourage remote therapy as a less intimidating and more accessible step versus in-person alternatives. Working through this initial resistance can be the hardest part of therapy.
Parents should work with their teen to find out what their expectations are for therapy and the source of any reluctance to it. Discussing these expectations and reservations with a potential therapist can help them understand how best to work with one’s child. Once therapy is underway on a regular basis, it is important for parents to keep in contact with their child’s counselor or therapist. This helps parents monitor the effects of therapy on their child’s emotional health and academic progress.
Making the most of distance learning and remote therapy requires a great deal of effort from teenagers, parents, teachers, and counselors. These methods of teaching and delivering support are truly team efforts. If anyone in the equation is “checked out,” the effectiveness is heavily impacted.
Distance learning and remote therapy offer great accessibility, flexibility, and new opportunities. When approached with the proper mindset, these tools can give teens an excellent education and improve their mental health. Moreover, they help teens make new friends, open their minds to new experiences, and get out of their emotional and intellectual comfort zones to embrace personal growth.