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  • Writer's pictureCathy Borg

How to Support your Teen During the School Year (Without Bringing You Both to Tears)

Updated: Sep 7, 2020

Janie Jones a 15-year-old high school student won’t be going to classes on Mondays or Tuesdays when school begins this fall. No, she’s not ill. No. she doesn’t have a recurring appointment. Janie. like 70% of Ontario secondary students, is scheduled to attend class in-person for at least 50% of instructional days the other school days will be remote learning.

Chances are that some hybrid model of in-school and remote learning will be the norm in most developed countries. Teens are going to be at home remote learning at least 50% of the school week.

A child psychologist said recently that she’d never had so many parents crying to her on the phone. They’re overwhelmed by changing schedules, making sure their child is keeping up with school work, the lack of social contact, too much screen time – the list goes on. We all need to take a giant step back from our problems and think about what really matters. Healthy well-adjusted children and that takes healthy well-adjusted parents.


1. Open Communication.

These times are upsetting and unsettling for everybody. We adults set the tone. We are the role models. We need to be able to talk calmly about COVID-19 using accurate information from reliable sources.

Acknowledging each others feelings and problem solving together will relieve a lot of tension. We can all listen more and talk less. You know best how to broach the topic about the new school year. An open discussion where feelings are validated will go a long way to reassure your teen that they can talk about what is really going on with them. Even though it may not always be convenient - listen when your teenager wants to talk.

The U.S. Center for Disease control has created a checklist: “Planning for In-Person Classes”. It is a good guide to get you thinking about staying safe at school.

2. Have a routine and set expectations

A healthy daily routine is great for mental and physical health, as well as concentration and learning. You can be a role model for your teen. Make an extra effort to take care of yourself: Get plenty of sleep. Take breaks. Exercise. Eat well. Stay socially connected.

Your teenager needs to:

Maintain a regular bedtime and wake-up to promote better sleep.

Have regular mealtimes, healthy eating habits and drink plenty of water.

Get dressed as if they’re going to high school even if they’re at home.

Have scheduled time for learning and time for breaks and daily physical activity.

Most teenagers in the senior grades can work directly with their teachers on what they need to do without any direct help from parents/caregivers. You can access any assignments and on-line learning modules from their school web platforms. Encourage your teen to figure out approaches and solutions to what they’re working on to help them organize themselves and set priorities.

Your teenager will probably be missing the social engagement of school. Encourage them to keep up with friends and family (virtually). Help teens to set up virtual study groups with classmates.

Encourage regular exercise breaks such as going for a walk, using exercise apps, dancing, floor exercises or using home exercise equipment.

3. Space to Work

Teens may be feeling a lack of control over their lives. Help them gain a sense of control by encouraging them to declutter their rooms and set up a space where they’ll be able to work comfortably and productively. You can help by offering to take away donations.

If possible, the space should include: a quiet atmosphere, good lighting. a desk or table at a comfortable height for your teen, a storage basket or bin to keep supplies (paper, pens, pencils, markers, books, etc.), access to a computer/tablet or other smart device if possible

4. Simple everyday items and activities offer great learning opportunities.

There are many learning opportunities to be found in the home. If your teens have more time on their hands why not take advantage of time at home to introduce or refine life skills:

Cooking and Baking. Have your teen take responsibility for one or more family dinners each week. Research recipes and adapt them to your family’s needs/tastes and what ingredients are available. Plan to create a nutritionally balanced meal. Make shopping lists, price items and determine total meal costs. Figure out timing and logistics of preparing and serving the meal.

Cleaning, Organizing, and Daily Chores. Have your teen take responsibility for some household duties by scheduling and doing (without being reminded!) tasks such as: caring for younger siblings, cleaning the bathroom or other rooms, collecting household garbage and recycling, grocery shopping, yard work.

Finances and Budgeting. (if considering post-secondary education) Have your teen research tuition costs for various institutions. Research and begin to submit scholarship and bursary applications. Research associated costs such as books, student fees, commuting, accommodation, etc.

Other ideas: Have your teen estimate their monthly living expenses if they move out after graduation. Make a checklist of what features are important in a car, then find what cars meet your criteria. Calculate costs for maintaining a car (insurance, maintenance, fuel, etc.) Investigate how to prepare and report income taxes. Research how to apply for a credit card, calculate how much more you’d have to pay if you don’t settle your balance at the end of the month.

Time Management Skills Are Crucial

One big challenge to at home learning is getting the work done in a timely manner. It requires self-discipline to avoid distractions and a schedule to keep on track. As parents or caregivers we can help our teen.

Having a system to keep them on track is necessary. They need to have a single consistent planner/date book. Use a day planner yourself and make sure your teen does too. For each of you make your planner (whether paper, a wall calendar or digital) the only place you record all your information about what to do and where to be. Good time management will put both you and your teen in command of your days and ultimately your lives.


Cathy is an active member of Professional Organizers in Canada where she received her training. Her transition to professional organizer follows a career as an inner-city high school teacher working with people ranging in ages from 12 to 70 speaking over 60 first languages. If you'd like to talk about helping to set up your teen for success, we'd love to chat.

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