Ten Secrets for Teens who are Learning Online or at Home

Updated: Mar 20

It seems the entire country is faced with homeschooling or some form of online learning. Here are some tips to make your experience learning online or at home productive and successful!

1. Minimize distractions. Listen to Mrs. Lemons--put your phone away, set your computer up to a "do not distract" setting, close unnecessary tabs, turn off notifications, and focus! There are even apps on the phone that help with focusing your attention. One is called Forest. As you focus, accomplish tasks, and even take breaks, you build a big forest. The app will detect if you pick up the phone, which will kill your beautiful trees!

2. Sit at an organized desk, preferably in an area where a parent can see what you are doing. You may need a little more accountability to work hard when what you really feel like doing is plopping on your bed for "just a sec." If you do work in a room by yourself, keep it organized.

3. Change out of your pajamas. I used to think a benefit to online learning is being able to stay cozy. But I found that it contributes to a plummeting motivation. You feel how you dress. Dress smart; get smart.

4. Get snacks if you want. No rules about that! Unless you're talking to a teacher online while munching on chips. Then it's kind of gross.

5. Take a break at the intervals you need. Get up and jump rope for five minutes after you've been sitting and staring at a screen for 45 minutes. Race your brother around the block. Smart scientists tell us that an hour of vigorous exercise helps with focus JUST AS WELL AS ADHD meds. Wowza!

6. By break, I didn't say video game break, did I? If you take a break to play video games, your motivation to get back to school will go down to the depths of, well, a bad place. Seriously, use video games to motivate you to finish your work! When you're finished with school, you can relax and enjoy that NHL game, Call of Duty, or League of Legends.

7. No vaping in the bathroom! Wait, huh? Let me explain. First, you will need to own your own learning. Decide for yourself to be a learner, grow, and get smart. If your mom walks out of the room, you will be tempted to flip over to YouTube or a game. You are doing a lot of damage to yourself. You know the kids that skip class to vape in the bathroom? I hope that's not you. If so, stop it right now. You're better than that. The online version of "skipping class to vape in the bathroom" is the YouTube sneak that sucks HOURS of your productive time. It's bad, bad for the brain. Save YouTube for when you're done for the day. Repeat after me: I am smart! I am successful! I will not vape in the bathroom....or watch YouTube during school.

8. YOU CAN DO HARD THINGS! Motivation may be a struggle. Your mom will absolutely annoy you the more she nags. You will have days where you just aren't feelin' it. But, you are tough and strong and can make good decisions. And your feelings aren't the boss of you. Online learning requires a lot of independence and personal responsibility for solving problems. Typically, online classes have less direct instruction from a teacher, which means you have to figure things out on your own, using resources. If you have a math problem that only a quantum physicist can solve, you can fall back on a strategy. Be proactive and take these steps:

1. Take a big breath and embrace this disequilibrium. Confusion and frustration are normal when you're learning. If you don't feel it, you are not being challenged enough. You're about to learn something new, and that is cool!

2. Say out loud, "This is hard, and I can do hard things."

3. Ask yourself: What do I already know about this? What do I not understand and why (are there too many tough vocab words in the math problem)? Where can I find the answers to my questions? Then think of resources (your textbook, Khan Academy, Crash Course, Google) and use them before you ask an adult. For example, let's say you have to write a paragraph on why Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, which you find difficult even after reading your textbook. Google to see if there's a video that can help you. I know what you're thinking! YouTube! Well, so long as you are learning and not smoking, you'll be fine. But check the credibility of the video to make sure you can trust the information. Watching a short video on this topic could help you build up your understanding. Then go read your textbook again. You can do it! If you have taken steps to solve this problem on your own and are still struggling, then ask your parent for some support, or fire off an email to your teacher. He or she may even meet with you to support you. Teachers are awesome, and they like kids...generally.

9. If you have the flexibility to work on only one class per day, you may just love this idea! I have found that when my own kids work on just one class for weeks at a time, they are more focused, learn the material better, get better grades, and they lose very little time switching to five different subjects each day. For example, my 9th grader is doing Social Studies right now. He finishes a week of Social Studies in one day, which is about four or five hours of work. He does this for 18 weekdays in a row and is then finished with a semester. Try it out if you can!

10. Sleep in! Other smart scientists say teenagers need lots of sleep, and they usually need to sleep later in the morning. Talk to your parents about this to work out a schedule that allows you to get healthy sleep, and be careful of getting too much sleep, which isn't good. This is one of the biggest benefits of online learning--you get to customize a schedule. Also, you may find that you are really productive in the evening hours. I only let one of my three boys work late at night by himself because he has proven himself responsible by getting good grades and meeting deadlines. The other two? Um, no! If you like to work late at night, prove to your parents that you're grown-up enough to be trusted.

So, what do you think? Do you have other suggestions for teenagers? Maybe your parents do. Have them share in the comments.

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