Preparing Your Teen for a Virtual School Year

Preparing Your Teen for a Virtual School Year

The transition from summer vacation back to school is never easy for families, and this year poses new challenges with most schools in the DC region starting off virtually.

Luckily, Mary’s Center expert Rachel Osborn, LICSW, MSW, is here to help! As Senior Clinical Manager of School Based Mental Health, Rachel is part of our large team of therapists working with teens and their families to promote behavioral wellness. She shared this advice for a successful school year:


Tips to Keep Teens Focused and On Schedule


For Parents:

  • Don’t wait – Start talking with your teen now about their new schedule, being realistic about how different it will be and optimistic about your teen’s ability to be resilient. 
  • Adjust sleep schedules – Transitioning from a summer to a school-year sleep schedule is always hard for teens, and this year will be no different. Start working with your teen to go to bed and wake up a little earlier each week so it does not feel like such an abrupt change. 
  • Get them excited – It’s important for teens to have things to look forward to. Many teens may not feel excited for the new school year if it means they will not be going into the building, seeing friends, or playing sports. Talk to your teen about their goals and how to find things that stimulate and excite them.
  • Do your research – Talk to staff at your teen’s school to fully understand what supports they have in place for students. Most high schools have homerooms or advisories that help teens learn about time management and scheduling in small groups. Many clubs, sports teams, and after-school activities are also meeting virtually. The more familiar you are, the better you can coach and empower your teen. 

For Teens:

  • Reimagine your space – Think about your house as your new “school” and parts of your home that can be your new “classrooms.” Try to have easy access to things like a desk or table, electrical outlets, headphones, and pens and pencils.
  • Use a calendar – It doesn’t matter if you buy one, find one online, or create one yourself. Have something that helps you plan out your days and weeks. Schedule in time for yourself to do things like eat, move around, and take breaks – these will all help you to stay focused! 
  • Figure out your “traps” – We all have “traps” that take up our time, focus, and energy. It can be especially hard to avoid these when your living space and learning space are the same. Common traps include texting, social media, and video games. Figure out what yours are and try to limit these distractions. For example, if you find yourself texting too much during the school day, try putting your phone on airplane mode during class.
  • Move! – During a normal school day, you would switch classes, get outside, and walk around the building. Try to keep your body moving however you can; both your mind and your body need breaks from sitting in front of a computer all day.

Tips to Care for Teens’ Physical and Mental Health


For Parents:

  • Pay attention – Notice if you’re seeing major changes in your teen’s behavior such as being unusually irritable, moody, anxious, or isolated. 
  • Talk – As a parent, you can set the tone for your teen by modeling how to talk about uncomfortable and difficult topics, and showing that you are there to listen and not judge. It’s okay if you don’t have the perfect questions or answers for your teen! Find a few tips here.
  • Encourage – Encourage your teen to stay engaged with friends, find creative outlets, stay active, and learn new hobbies. Ask your teen about what they’re interested in and what helps them deal with stress. This shows that you value their growth and well-being outside of school.
  • Ask for help – Familiarize yourself with the mental health and social supports your teen’s school provides, and find out who to contact if you have concerns about your teen. You can also ask any provider at Mary’s Center for referrals to any of our wraparound services. 

For Teens:

  • Connect – It is unnatural to be disconnected from friends and loved ones, and this can lead to isolation. Find meaningful ways to stay connected with the people around you.
  • Move around – Your body was meant to move! Find ways to stay active and make them part of your routine. Use free online exercise classes, go on walks with siblings, or do virtual workouts with a friend.  
  • Ask for help – It is normal to feel all types of ways right now as we adapt to a world that keeps changing. Your parents, teachers, counselors, school social workers, doctors, and sports coaches are just some of the adults you can talk to for support and guidance. Anyone who will listen and not judge you is a good place to start. 
  • Follow Mary’s Center online Check out the Mary’s Center Teen Project Instagram account (@mc_teenproject), dedicated to teen health and wellness.