How Involved Should I Be In My Child’s Online Schooling?

It’s a question I have been getting a lot since many schools closed their doors due to novel coronavirus. A lot of parents are doing more than packing their kids lunches and sending them out the door. They’re now facilitating and overseeing their adolescent’s entire virtual learning experience.

Some schools offer clear guidelines to help parents understand what is expected of them. Many encourage them to be actively involved as “learning coaches” who schedule and oversee every aspect of their child’s day. Other schools ask parents to stay home with their tween or teen to assist only as needed.

No two students or families are exactly alike, so you may need to modify any arrangements suggested by your child’s school. Taking your child’s needs and your own needs into account, I recommend you tailor your involvement in your teen’s online schooling accordingly.

Here are four home schooling tips to help you determine your level of involvement:

Assess the level of support being provided by your child’s school

Undoubtedly, teachers are trying their best to adjust to the online learning environment. However, some have limited experience and training teaching virtually. Many are also juggling their responsibility to their students with their other adult obligations. In some cases, they may be sharing their space and attention with young children or a work-from-home spouse.

District guidelines for teachers regarding how to teach your child online may also be impacting the quality of the online learning experience. How structured is the instruction? While some districts require teachers to offer live, real-time lectures, others do not. The level of student engagement tracking also varies from school to school. Will your child’s teacher notice if your teen doesn’t show up for class, leaves part-way through, or gets confused?

As you evaluate how your child’s classroom closure is affecting them, don’t forget to consider the other services that may also have been lost. Lunch is no longer being provided. Perhaps after-school tutoring services are no longer offered. And what about counseling and library services? Are sports activities shut down? Even if some of these amenities are still available, your tween or teen may need help accessing them.

This assessment will allow you to compare the amount of support your child is currently receiving from their school to the amount they once enjoyed. If they’re receiving a less comprehensive or lower-quality education now versus previously, someone may need to fill in the gaps.

Consider how much support your child needs

The answer to this question is a bit more complicated, as it depends on your child’s age, cognitive abilities, and mental health. For example, a college freshman may transition to online learning easily. A freshman in high school with ADHD, on the other hand, may need help with a wide variety of tasks, from time management to staying on task. Every child develops at a different rate, and understanding the differences in development can be helpful.

If your teen has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or is autistic, they may need more support than other tweens and teens their age. Pay attention to their first few classes. Are they thriving in the online schooling environment because there are fewer social distractions? Or is the virtual setting making it harder for them to stay focused? Which digital tools (such as timers and concentration apps) can help, and which situations call for a hands-on approach?

Observe your child and ask them how things are going to help you determine how much support they need and in what areas.

Avoid being too helpful

Your child might appreciate having you nearby to answer questions when needed. However, they may get discouraged if you offer unsolicited advice or criticisms. Swooping in to help any time your tween or teen has the slightest setback can send them the message that they’re incapable of doing anything on their own. It can make your child feel discouraged and helpless, setting them up for failure later on when you’re not around.

Being too helpful can also rob your child of the opportunity to learn valuable coping skills. During their adolescent years, the cost of making academic mistakes is relatively low. Allowing them to make those mistakes now will teach them how to recover from errors and manage difficult emotions—skills they’ll need as adults.

There is a fine line between teaching and enabling. Before involving yourself with your child’s virtual learning, ask yourself whether your involvement with be more helpful or hurtful. Are you inadvertently allowing them to continue destructive behaviors? If you’ve been wondering how to prepare your child for college and a career, one sure way is to decrease your involvement as they mature.

Don’t bite off more than you can chew

Your first instinct may be to personally fill any support gap between your child and their school. Perhaps you have already been serving as their learning coach since school began in the spring. If so, it is worth asking yourself how that has been going and answering honestly.

Many home schooling parents are extremely overwhelmed since they still have all of their other adult responsibilities to contend with. No one knows for sure how long online learning will continue. What effect will it have on your physical and mental health to maintain or increase your involvement? How might it impact your marriage or other close relationships?

You may think you’re sacrificing yourself to improve your child’s situation, but it’s more complicated than that. Parental anxiety often transmits to children, so you may not be doing your child any favors by getting more involved than you have time for. Consider whether another family member, tutor, therapist, nanny, life coach, disability advisor, or someone else could lighten your load.

Get Outside Support

If you need help setting up your child for academic success, I can help. As a specialist in developmental psychology, I’m passionate about helping adolescents and emerging adults realize their potential. I also provide parenting tips and training. Contact Dr. Jenifer Goldman for a free, 20-minute consultation to discuss how I might support you and your child as you adjust to online schooling.