4 Strategies For Teenagers To Get Through This School Year

By John Fletcher LPC


My how our world has changed in just the past 6 months! At that point the public was under the impression that the COVID-19 virus was something that was not worth worrying about and since then our country has experienced over 200,000 deaths, an almost nation-wide lockdown, economic turmoil, racial tensions, and to cap these past 6 months off our kids have been subjected to distance learning for their schooling. Regardless of the political, medical, and social opinions that many may have about this situation, the reality is that our kids are challenged with spending this current school year learning from home. To say the least, this is even now becoming a real struggle for many students and their families on many fronts and this brief blog is designed to focus on how students can survive and hopefully even thrive in a learning environment that is by its very nature counter-productive according to most learning styles.


So here are some strategies that will help your schooler get through each day with the minimal amount of stress.


First, while engaged in online classes, use as many of your 5 senses as possible throughout the learning day as part of your experience. Even the most ardent gamer will tell you that sitting in front of a computer screen for hours at a time will produce real exhaustion. This is because only one sense, sight, is being used during the gaming experience. Any student who spends the entire day staring at a computer screen will experience significant exhaustion by the end of the school day. I believe that many students, and teachers especially, will run the risk of experiencing total burnout by the beginning of November of this school year.


When the brain is exhausted it ceases to learn and retain information. In an effort to avoid this state, the brain will derail the focus onto other things which stimulate the brain and students will become quickly distractible and impulsive from boredom and exhaustion. On the other hand, students who incorporate other senses into their learning day will experience much less exhaustion. This includes walking around the room and using hearing instead of just sight to learn information. Taking notes, especially for those who usually don’t, can be exhilarating to the brain in its desire to learn. Eating healthy snacks during class as long as it tastes good and is filling incorporates other parts of the brain without interfering with the ability to learn.


Families with multiple students might find this more difficult to accomplish but hooking up the chromebook to a big screen tv produces a different, less tiring, form of light and the eyes are not as focused on such a small area. The vast majority of students will find that their desire to participate in the class discussion greatly suffers during distance learning. Making yourself talk, contribute and ask questions during class will also exercise other parts of the brain.


The more of our senses that we use in learning allows information to be stored and accessed easier at later times. Secondly, self care outside of school time is crucial to getting through this year. Kids, especially teenagers, should be kicked out of the house immediately after school to get outside. This accomplishes a couple of different objectives.


First, being outside elevates vitamin D levels and keeps an otherwise suppressed immune system active ( https://www.webmd.com/lung/news/20200925/low-vitamin-d-levels-tied-to-higher-odds-for-seve re-covid#1 ) Pediatricians and Family physicians are concerned as much about the flu season this year more than in years past because of the suppression of immune systems due to the lockdown and due to kids spending so much time indoors. Do not skip getting the flu vaccination this season ( https://www.vdh.virginia.gov/news/2020-regional-news-releases/flu-shots-are-recommended-no w-during-the-covid-19-pandemic/ ).


Secondly, being outside gets the body moving and activates the tactile parts of our brains which results in relaxation and reinvigoration of the spirit, mind and body. Getting outside during lunch breaks or even between classes for a couple of minutes resets the brain for further learning later.


In counseling this is called a “pattern interrupt” and interferes with the brain’s tendency to slip into patterns that produce boredom and exhaustion. Start the day off with a good, protein based breakfast which includes quality vitamins and supplements as directed by your healthcare professional/physician. The COVID-19 pandemic and consequential lockdowns have kept students isolated from their normal routines, social gatherings/events, and from their activities. Adjusting to this in a healthy manner is crucial at this time. Encouraging your kids to seek new hobbies, which introduces something new into their lives is one of the best ways they can survive and even thrive throughout this crisis. Activities such as skiing/snowboarding, golf, biking, hiking, and other activities which get them out of the home provides the needed break and cognitive/physical activity that balances out the consequences of isolation and inactivity that the pandemic has caused.


The last strategy but certainly not the least important for parents and their school students to consider is the level of anxiety and depression the pandemic has caused. It is my opinion among many others that as a society we will be reaping the consequences of the emotional weight from the lockdowns and pandemic fears for years to come.


Many kids, especially teenagers, might feel as if this has been “fun” or adventurous and much of this thinking has grown from their ability to stay connected electronically over the past several months. But there is no substitute for physical, close connection and as society begins to re-emerge from these lockdowns the emotional effects will begin to appear. Imagine holding your breath for several minutes. This is what much of our nation has been doing for the past several months. During this time we hold in our emotions due to uncertainty and fear of the unknown.


As treatments dramatically improve survival outcomes and fears subside our emotions “exhale” and relax. This is the point where the anxiety and depression emerge and it can be quite frightening and debilitating for many. If this is the case in your family the best next step is to seek the help of a professional who specializes in treating teenage depression and anxiety.


Hopefully a year from now we all will all look back on this time of great stress and realize how much each of us has grown stronger as individuals, families, and as a society.