Technology has transformed our world, but for our kids, life without gadgets would be unimaginable. They expect to have access to these devices 24/7, but their expectations and reality are very different. Technology can be an asset to learning. It can also be a significant detractor unless parents establish clear policies and consequences.
If the overuse of technology is affecting your child's schoolwork, try these simple solutions:
Set limits starting with an electronics-free routine. When your child returns from school, allow screen access for an agreed upon period of time, and then the electronics go off. In many families, it is a half-hour, but whatever time allotment you determine, stick with that time-limit daily. You may also want to have a small box or container labelled ‘electronics go here.’ That way, you're not holding out your hand asking for your child's beloved cell phone. Having a neutral place for it to be placed makes the transition less confrontational. It also limits the child's temptation to sneak calls, texts or games while doing homework.
Trust but verify. After homework is completed, your child can retrieve their electronics after an adult has verified that the work is done. This usually includes checking completed assignments against what has been recorded in your child's planner or posted online by the teachers.
Consider returning electronics later in the evening. If your child is one who will rush through homework just to have access to their gadgets, consider a later time for returning them. You may find that about an hour after dinner works well. By this time, homework should be out of the way unless an extra-curricular activity is thrown in the mix.
Having a routine decreases battles because kids know what to expect. Even if your child's schedule is different every day, stick to a routine as much as possible. For example, if your child returns home from school at 4 and has a half-hour of screen time, then homework would start at 4:30. The electronics can be collected from the basket by your child at 7pm. Now, if your child has soccer practice on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 5:30 to 6:30, allow them access for a half-hour after school. Expect that they start their homework before practice and then work on it again immediately after dinner when they return. On those evenings, they may not earn screen time until their work is completed.
Depending on the Age of Your Child, You May be Wondering...
What if they need the computer for research? The answer is to allow them to print out information needed for the writing portion of the assignment. That way, they'll have the information, but won't have continuous and distracting access to the Internet.
What if they need to type their homework? If your teen has a desk and computer in their room, but is constantly surfing the Internet when they should be doing homework, disable the Internet and only run word processing programs only. This isn't hard to set up.
What should I do if I see them online or texting when they should be doing homework? After you've established a ‘no screen time’ policy and window of time that this rule is in place, you must enforce it. Let's say your policy is in effect from 5 to 7pm. If they break the rule, penalize them an hour and restrict their use until 8pm.
Your child says they focus better when multi-tasking. Could this be true? No. In fact, studies show that when kids continually multi-task, they lose the ability to focus on one thing at a time. Picture your son or daughter with earphones in while listening to their iPod, texting furiously, and checking their social networking page all at the same time. This is common, but not productive. The problem is that when kids try to concentrate on just one task, such as reading or studying, they're less able to sustain attention because they are so accustomed to stimulation from multiple sources. Even though you can discourage this type of behavior, you cannot stop it. You can, however, eliminate it during homework time.
Your child says they can't focus without music. Should I allow them to listen? There may be something to their claims. Studies show that the majority of kids do attend better with background music. If your child is productive when listening to their iPod, allow its use; however, if they are constantly distracted, then consider soft background music only.
By setting limits and boundaries now, you'll be helping to create a positive and productive homework environment in the future. Good habits now will pay off throughout the high school years and in college, too.
Ann K. Dolin, M.Ed., is the founder and president of Educational Connections, Inc., a comprehensive provider of educational services in Fairfax and Bethesda. In her book, Homework Made Simple: Tips, Tools and Solutions for Stress-Free Homework, Dolin offers proven solutions to help the six key types of students who struggle with homework. Learn more at www.anndolin.com or www.ectutoring.com.
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