Helping Teens Be Successful at Remote Learning

Adolescents across the world are facing an unprecedented change. Many schools are closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and are turning to online learning as a way to continue our youth’s education.

While we are very fortunate to have the technology to continue learning online, this format of education creates some challenges. High school students are suddenly free from structure and requirements, which can cause a lack of motivation and poor decision-making in time management. For example, a college professor recently asked a class of freshmen to track their time over a week. Students reported spending more hours on entertainment than on schoolwork and were quite surprised at how much time they wasted. When new college students are freed from the rules surrounding class attendance and hours, they experienced difficulty in making good choices. Our teens will face similar challenges now.

So, as we launch into online learning, today’s blog explains what you can do to help set your teen up for success.


Experts agree that one of the most important factors of success in online learning is establishing a schedule. However, since your teen is nearly an adult, you cannot impose a schedule on them. As a general rule, people are more committed to and feel greater satisfaction when they have had a voice in making decisions. You must negotiate with your teen to obtain their buy-in to a schedule that meets all of your needs. You will need to make compromises. For example, if you want your teen to have a specific wake-up time each day but your teen wants to sleep in, you might allow them to sleep in on the weekends but wake up at a specific time Monday-Friday, or keep a consistent wake-up time, but agree to a slightly later time than you prefer.

Explain the benefits of a schedule.

Your teen is probably not going to be excited about creating any sort of structure. They likely will want to think of this time as a vacation, so you will need to explain the benefits of having a schedule. Give them scientific facts. Research has shown that schedules:

  • reduce stress and anxiety (which is particularly important during this time),
  • improve our sense of well-being (for example, an irregular sleep schedule creates irritability, inability to focus and learn, and lack of behavior control),
  • allow you to be more efficient, getting everything done easier and faster,
  • reduce the amount of time you waste so you have more free time,
  • can be tailored to match our most productive times (so that we perform work during times of the day when we feel most energized),
  • reduce fatigue because you spend less time and energy having to make decisions about what to do next, and
  • cue our brain to be productive at specific times.

Once your teen understands why schedules are a good idea, ask them to work with you to sketch out a schedule for one week of their remote learning. Be clear that the schedule can be altered in the future, as you learn more about when your teen is most effective and how your teen’s teachers will be handling the transition.

Establish the schedule.

A good schedule will include consistent times for the following activities:

  • waking up,
  • meals,
  • creating a to-do list for the day (checking school assignments),
  • schoolwork,
  • studying,
  • downtime for relaxing,
  • times to connect virtually, or on the phone, with friends, and
  • bedtime.


Create ground rules for schoolwork time.

Students new to online learning make a couple of common mistakes that can ruin their success: 1) taking breaks that are too long or too frequent during learning and 2) allowing distractions. To help your student be successful, implement these rules:

Take effective breaks. During your teen’s schoolwork time, they should take a 5-10 minute break every 45-50 minutes. In a typical school day, teens focus for 45-90 minutes in a class, and then they have 5 minutes to change classes giving them a much needed moment to move around. Your teen’s 5-10 minute break should be an opportunity to get away from the screen, so they should take a walk, grab a snack, get a drink, stretch, or get some fresh air. This is not the time to start a video game or scroll through social media.

Remove distractions. During schoolwork time, teens should not have access to their cellphone, tablet, or TV. It’s too easy during an online class to browse the internet, text a friend, or watch a show. Remind them that they have scheduled downtime during the day to do these things, but they need to give their undivided attention during schoolwork. They will be more efficient if they are not distracted, which should actually leave them more downtime to do those things later.

Designate a “school” space.

Create a designated space in your home that signals work to your teen’s brain. Ideally, the space will be quiet, have school supplies at the ready, and be free of distractions.

Get organized.

Teens doing significant work online for the first time will need to create a system to keep track of it. They may have to organize files, name documents clearly, and have a way to know that their assignments are done. In addition, it’s a good idea to teach your teen how to keep a project calendar. They will need a way to keep track of dates for assignments, quizzes, tests, and project due dates. If you haven’t already, teach them how to break up large projects into smaller tasks and create mini deadlines for each task.

Brush up your teen’s tech skills.

Most teens are more tech savvy then their parents, but sometimes they are not up-to-date on skill sets needed for online learning. Make sure that your teen knows how to use the ‘help’ feature when they are stuck, take screenshots, save and retrieve their work, email their teachers, upload files, and operate the software they need to complete assignments. If they don’t know any of these skills, use time on the weekend to give them a tutorial or have them look up a video tutorial on YouTube.

Encourage teacher communication.

Your teen is going to need to take more responsibility in communicating with their teacher. Let them know that it’s their responsibility to email their teacher if they think a grade is incorrect, is confused about an assignment or subject material, or if they have been ill. You can coach your teen through the process, but it is vital that your teen learns the important skill of knowing how to interact in a polite manner with authority figures.

Role model.

Research shows that we unconsciously mimic and respond to people in our environment. As a result, you are your teen’s most important role model during this time, which means that you need to follow a schedule that is similar to your teen’s. Just as your teen creates a to-do list first thing in the morning, you do the same. Just as you want your teen to stay off social media during work periods, you do the same.

Be Patient

School closures and canceled sports and events are likely to cause teens to feel anxious, angry and/or sad. Your teen may need help in processing these intense emotions, and they are unlikely to perform their best schoolwork feeling this way. Now is a time to practice patience and compassion with your children. Validate your teens’ feelings, help them label their emotions, and role model healthy coping skills. Their learning will come, but their mental health is vital to getting through this situation successfully.

Final Thoughts…

While you might feel overwhelmed or daunted by the new responsibilities involved in monitoring your high school student’s online learning, there are some positives that this season creates. First, learning the skills above to manage online school will prepare teenagers for the freedom that college brings. Their transition to post-secondary education will likely be smoother if they can master these skills now. Second, if you can stay patient with your teen, this is a real opportunity to grow closer as a family before they move out of the house.

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