Education in the Time of COVID-19: How Parents Can Advocate for Their Teens

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on student learning across the country, resulting in some teens falling behind academically — particularly in communities that were already facing challenges like poverty and systemic racism. According to the Society for Research in Child Development, many Black parents are concerned about accessing resources or supplies to keep their children on track academically. And as improvements continue as the nation’s COVID-19 cases fall, parents are working to be part of the solution in addressing inequities in their children’s education. “Whether your school system has decided to go back to in-person, is doing a remote or hybrid model, or slowly phasing back to in-person, there are several communities struggling to get this virus under control, so we need to first acknowledge that this is a traumatic time for a lot of people,” says Latisha Ross, Ph.D., research associate at Youth-Nex, the University of Virginia Center to Promote Effective Youth Development. “People are very sick and in positions of financial struggle. This is not just about parents but also about youth and lost opportunities.” Parents can make a big difference. They can use this time as an opportunity to rethink how we approach family and community engagement with our educational institutions. 

These are trying times for everyone. We must be sensitive to the stress teens are feeling. Many teens find it overwhelming to speak up and ask for help at school. This is where the help of a parent is crucial. Here are some ways to help ensure success for your teen in the classroom in the wake of COVID-19.

Minimize Stress

Distance learning and disruption to normal school routines as a result of the pandemic can be extremely stressful for teens and parents. Parents aren’t used to having to alternate work locations, oversee remote learning, and still deal with challenges that parenting in general may hold. Cut yourselves a break and acknowledge you don’t have to be a perfect parent. Then you can focus on solutions for your tweens and teens. Start with predictability. “Parents need to do whatever they can to alleviate stress at this time. Setting up routines and schedules that work for your family and allow them to, as much as possible, thrive,” says Dr. Ross. We know it can be tricky, especially if you do not have the luxury of working from home but try to create as much structure for your teen’s virtual learning day as possible. Encourage teens to get 8-10 hours of sleep each night and have them dial down activities at least an hour before going to bed. Make sure they eat, log on for class in a place where they can comfortably learn, and take breaks. (If your family needs food assistance, click here for a list of available programs and here for a map of foodbanks.) Also, establish a daily and weekly schedule that includes schoolwork, homework, time for special projects, and family time to alleviate stress.

Communicate with Teachers

With remote learning, there are many challenges to family and school engagement, including communication. Parents may be left in the dark about their teen’s classes, schedule, teachers, or the quality of the education their child is receiving. “Parents are concerned that their children aren’t learning or are not learning effectively. They’re not always getting access to high-quality education, and teachers are really spread thin and don’t know how to respond to this moment,” says Dr. Ross. “I would urge concerned parents to maintain an open line of communication with your child and their educator as much as you can. Set up conferences or consistent check-ins with teachers or school administrators and say, ‘I don’t think this is working, can we figure out another system?’ or ‘This is working really well, how can I get more of that for my child?’” 

Encourage your child to speak up and advocate for themselves if virtual learning is not going smoothly or if they need help. Also, if your child is experiencing technical difficulties with virtual learning, be sure to reach out to the school’s technology help desk for support. And if your teen needs a laptop, ask the school if it offers laptops or tablets to students. If they can’t, ask school representatives if they can help put you in touch with organizations who can help. 

Be Supportive and Encouraging

A study from NBC News and Challenge Success, a nonprofit affiliated with the Stanford Graduate School of Education, revealed 84 percent of remote students surveyed reported exhaustion, headaches, insomnia, or other stress-related ailments, compared to 82 percent of students who were in the classroom on some days and 78 percent of students who were in the classroom full time. For this reason, your love, support, and reinforcement is essential. “In my research, I have found that support and encouragement go a long way,” says Dr. Ross. “When parents are supportive and encouraging, adolescents persist more. They’re more engaged, have higher grades, and a higher sense of well-being.” Try to uplift your teen and offer words of inspiration often. Let them know that you understand how hard this time is and that you are there to guide and help them get through this. Follow that up with a big hug.

About LaShieka Hunter

LaShieka Hunter is a health, parenting, and entertainment writer living on Long Island, NY. Her work has appeared in The New York Times; O, The Oprah Magazine; Essence; Dr. Oz The Good Life; Men’s Health; and Ebony.

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