When 14-year-old Ellie Rosic does her homework, her phone is ‘crucial,’ says her dad, Andy, an IT specialist. “But as I see it, 2 percent of the time, Ellie is asking friends about homework and 98 percent of the time she’s texting random emojis, checking Facebook and Pinterest, and taking Buzzfeed quizzes.”
Ellie also has her iPad propped up next to her laptop to watch YouTube or stream music. “Homework takes three times as long because of the distractions,” says Andy. He’s right. Although some teens would argue their generation is just ‘better’ at multitasking, don’t buy it.
The problem: technology can distract
“Multitasking makes you more distracted,” says Jodi Gold, MD, author of Screen-Smart Parenting and director of the Gold Center for Mind, Health and Wellness. Multitasking or using multiple devices won’t cause attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. “That’s a myth,” says Dr. Gold, but it can make teens more inefficient. “When your brain switches back and forth, your ability to attend to both activities decreases. It’s more tiring for your brain, too,” she says.
Moreover, managing social media can be a big responsibility. If teens are worried about not responding or needing to respond to texts or keeping up a SnapChat streak, the resulting anxiety can draw them away from their homework.
Still, “technology is here to stay, and we have to find a place for it,” says Katie Duffy Schumacher, author of Don’t Press Send: A Mindful Approach to Social Media. After all, Facetiming or video chatting with someone while doing your homework together can be productive. But the challenge then becomes not taking a detour on social media, YouTube, or Netflix.
What can you do to help your teen stay on task? These smart steps can help you help your teen get the job done:
Delegate the device policing - Lots of parental control apps are available that limit screen time, so teens can get their homework done distraction-free. For example, “We installed the OurPact app on our teens’ phones because it will shut down access to social media and apps during homework time,” says Amy Carney, mom to 15-year-old triplet sons Kade, Aidan, and Cole, a 14-year-old daughter, Morgan, and a 10-year-old son, Phoenix. “We don’t always have the schedule turned on, but we’ll do so if we see our teens trying to juggle homework and socializing online,” says Carney.
“There are times when parents need to take charge,” says Dr. Gold. But an even better idea for the long haul is to do just the opposite and avoid being the middleman. “One of the biggest challenges in parenting today is helping teens to self-regulate. The truth is, teens are growing up in a world where they’re going to have to deal with the distraction of technology. They have to learn how to modulate it,” says Dr. Gold. When using technology-blocking apps, Dr. Gold recommends talking to your teen about the myth of multitasking and suggesting that they learn how to use these apps to block specific distracting sites for certain amounts of time during homework sessions.
Create some distance - In lieu of technology-blocking apps teach your teen to get into the habit of putting their phone in another room while doing their homework. Your teen doesn’t need to use their phone to get their homework done. Distancing your teen from their phone creates a physical barrier that minimizes tech temptation to check TikTok, for example, and helps teens move away from multitasking.
“Often teens will say, ‘Fine. I’ll just finish this before I go and check my phone,’” says Dr. Gold. Keep your distance, too. “Don’t say your teen isn’t allowed to check their phone,” advises Dr. Gold. Let your teen check their phone, if they want to.
Take device breaks - While your teen’s phone is in another room or a technology-blocking app is on, encourage your teen to set a timer. When the timer goes off after 20, 30, or 45 minutes of homework, they can take a 10-minute TikTok break. “Studying for small amounts of time but with more focus and taking breaks maximizes efficiency and helps teach time management,” says Dr. Gold. A device break can also boost motivation when it becomes a reward for accomplishing specific tasks.
Whatever the method, it’s an important life skill for teens to learn how to manage the distractions that technology can present. As most of us grown-ups know, this isn’t exclusively a teen problem, but the teenage years are a great time to build good tech habits.
Sandra is an award-winning freelance writer who delivers expert advice and the latest developments in health, nutrition, parenting, and consumer issues.
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