What will the academic year look like?
Both you and your teen have been thinking about this since last spring. What can you do as a parent, grandparent, or concerned family member to make sure your teen feels ready for the upcoming school year? Many things are outside of our control, but you can choose the way you communicate; follow these steps to set your teen up for a successful school year:
Set a time to make a plan
Choose a time to discuss what you want the year to look like with your teen. Avoid springing this talk on them, as it’s likely to get you a shrug and an “I don’t know.” Instead, find a space during your day that is relaxed for both of you to talk. If you had a bad experience last spring, this is especially important. This could be after eating or after watching a funny show.
If your teen is avoiding planning, you can share with them that you feel this is an important conversation to have because you want to do your best as a parent to understand and support them.
Start with curiosity and empathy
Ask your teen about their experience with online school. If last spring was hard, you will need to listen, without judgment, as to why it was hard for them. Approach with curiosity. Ask them for their thoughts on school last spring: what was good, what was hard, and what they think will come up this year. You're not offering solutions yet.
Now you get to share
This is the time to express your concerns for the upcoming year. In order to bring up your concerns without making your teen feel judged, use “I-Messages.” These start with the word “I”, then a feeling (worried, confused), followed by a description of what happened and how it affected you.
“Jessi, I felt worried when I saw that your light was on late and I knew you had a Zoom class at 9 a.m. It was hard to keep myself calm and I felt like I wasn’t doing a good job as a parent.” Make it about you, how you felt.
Both of you will collect ideas on what each of you thinks works best. Even if you think your teen's solution won't work, don't cross it out. Then go through the list you made together to discuss the plan. Teens often respond well to the collaboration - they feel heard and see that their opinions are respected.
The Step We Don’t Anticipate: What if something comes up?
If your plan isn't working as you both intended, don't be afraid to set another brainstorming session to figure out if new difficulties come up for them. Don't give up! Reward yourselves with joint activities you both enjoy. Your teen is more likely to stick to the plan if your relationship is strong in other ways.
Chris Garrido-Philp is a certified therapist and licensed clinical social worker associate with Catalyst Counseling in Woodinville.