Distance learning couldn’t have come at a worse time for most 11th graders. Developmentally, teens are getting the opposite of what they want right now: distance from their parents and more time with their peers. So not only is your high school junior suffering from being separated from friends, who are arguably the most important people in your teen’s life right now, they’ve also had the most important academic period in their high school career cut short.

What will next year look like?

No one knows. Many districts are hinting that online learning may continue into the fall, and there seems to be grudging agreement nationwide that school as we’ve known it won’t be returning to “normal” anytime soon. For your 11th grader, that means matriculating to senior year without the usual social and academic structure that paves the way for life after high school. If distance learning continues into their 12th grade year, they may miss getting in-person counselors’ and teachers’ input about their post-high school game plan, whether that’s starting college, taking a gap year, or stepping right into the workforce.

How to help your 11th grader cope

Keep in mind that everyone is in a similar situation. If your 11th grader is missing out on college-entrance exams in May, can’t do that coveted summer internship that would make their college application stand out, or has to skip visiting colleges in August, it doesn’t put them at a disadvantage because other students their age are missing these things, too. While no one knows what the new normal will look like when it comes to college admissions, this missed time is something all college admissions officers will have to reckon with.

An academic curveball

Junior year, notoriously the most academically challenging of the four high school years, is when grades matter most for college applications. It’s also when students take the ACT or SAT college-entrance exams, which have been cancelled or put on hold. The good news is that, with the shift to at-home learning, your 11th grader may be experiencing less stress than they would during a typical junior year. The bad news is that they may have to scramble next year to make sure they are in good shape for graduation requirements and college acceptances.

How to help your 11th grader cope

Focus on what your child can do right now, which is keep up in their classes and think about things they can do this summer to stay on track, such as online SAT test prep, or a course of independent study of their choosing. Keep in mind that high schools nationwide, as well as colleges, are quickly adjusting expectations and requirements in response to this worldwide crisis. While your junior may have missed their SATs and not be able to visit prospective colleges anytime soon, they share these challenges with millions of other students.

Awful, at least part of the time

The 11th grader’s social life is now being lived completely virtually, which means that social dynamics that used to play out in the halls between classes or at weekend parties are not happening. Instead, your 16- or 17-year-old is experiencing their intense emotional life in close quarters. This also means, says John Duffy, author of Parenting the New Teen in the Age of Anxiety, that, “because they are hormonal and sometimes struggling, most every kid is going to be behaviorally awful at least during some part of this time. And a lot of that is going to be directed at mom and dad.” If you had conflicts or fights in the past, you may be having more, says Duffy, “since whatever they’d be struggling with emotionally before, they’d normally be bringing to their friends to dissipate.”

How to help your 11th grader cope

Your 11th grader needs autonomy, Duffy says. “It’s okay to check in with them and say.’Hey, what do you need from me right now?’” They will tell you, says Duffy, whether they’d like to talk or be left alone. “A lot of parents feel pressure right now to have everyone together and get along.” he adds. Take pressure off of your teen and yourself. “This is a good time to take their cue.”

Prone to solitude

Yes, alone time is essential for teens this age. But not too much, says Duffy. “One of the most important things we can do as parents right now is have our kids get outside and moving,” says Duffy. When teens get out, “they gain a little perspective and there’s a shift in their mindset. The kids who are always in their rooms never get out of their mindset,” which can spiral into depression and anxiety.

How to help your 11th grader cope

“Create a chore,” suggests Duffy. “Anything to get outside and moving.” Yes, this may well annoy your 11th grader, but what else are parents of high schoolers here for?

Maybe it’s not all bad

Thanks to a still-maturing brain, your 11th grader might very likely be indulging in behavior that keeps parents up at night with worry. Confined to home, many of these high-risk activities are impossible — and less compelling besides. (Studies show that teens indulge in riskier behavior in the company of peers.)

How to help your 11th grader cope

Enjoy it. If your 11th grader seems, at least sometimes, more relaxed and less stressed because they aren’t navigating the complex social and academic byways of junior year, consider this a silver lining. Duffy says he’s hearing from plenty of teens that they’re actually enjoying spending time with parents in a way that they hadn’t before adolescence kicked in. “I’m talking to kids who are doing charades, puzzles, TikTok videos, things with their parents. It’s fun for kids to see their parents in a different light. There’s an opportunity to build relationships that might be a little fractured.”

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Updated: May 15, 2020