“Where’s my calculator for my math homework?”
“OMG, he took a selfie of his promposal? Lame.”
“Wait a second, here’s a new BuzzFeed Quiz! Am I “basic?” No way!”
Can you imagine how hard it would be to focus on studying with all this going on? But for the average teen, this is how they spend homework time. They click through Google searches looking for facts and get distracted by more interesting links. They try to read and get distracted by Snapchat. They look for supplies and find their buzzing phone.
Here are 10 savvy ways to stop homework distractions.
1. Decide “when.” There’s nothing like a habit to make sure something happens. You brush your teeth before bed; it’s just what happens. Same with homework. You do homework after school. Or, you do homework after dinner. Your schedule might vary from day to day, but in general being consistent about when homework will happen assures that it will become second nature.
2. Decide “where.” Just as you want to do homework roughly the same time every day, aim to do it in the same place, as well. In some families, that is at the kitchen table where mom is working on dinner or her own “work” and is available for questions. For others, it’s a quiet desk in another room. But sprawling in front of the TV, even if it’s off, is enough to make your teen reach for the remote control. Better to do it somewhere that he doesn’t associate with “fun” and “relaxation.”
3. Create a distraction free zone. We tend to think of distractions as being electronic, which they often are. Silence the phone. Close down the browser. Turn off the email notifications. But distractions also refer to the other people in the house. Make sure that your middle schooler is not trying to do math problems where her little sister is creating a volcano science project. Sometimes a complete change of place can help. That’s why some college kids head straight for the library rather than trying to work in the dorm. See if relocating you and your teen to the public library might help.
4. Have everything you need at the ready. Think ahead to what supplies will be needed to complete an assignment. Going on a search for supplies is a surefire way to derail homework. Finding a pen that works inevitably brings your teen to the kitchen counter, where the mail and the new Pottery Barn Teen catalog lie. Or, a detour to the pencil sharpener becomes an opportunity to linger near the TV where little brother is watching Nick at Nite.
5. Have a plan. It’s much easier to concentrate on your homework when you know what is next – and how much is left. Have your child take a good look at what needs to be done and make a solid estimate of how long it might take to do each task.
6. Schedule breaks. Our brains and bodies aren’t wired to do the same thing for too long. If you don’t plan for regular breaks, your child may get frustrated or suffer from that wandering mind that can make homework time less effective. Best choices for breaks? Something physical! Whether she’s shooting baskets outside or on the Wii, or having a dance party, getting the blood flowing will get the brain moving! And sometimes a tech break to do a quick Facebook/Instagram/Tumblr scan is what’s needed.
Work with your child to establish smart break parameters. You might choose to use a timed break, as in a 10-minute break every hour. Or, a project break where they earn their 10-minute break after reading a certain number of chapters, completing a set number of math problems or finishing one subject.
7. Study actively. In this case, we’re not talking about “active” as in getting up and moving around, but as in being “actively” rather than passively involved with homework. Suggest that your teen take notes on passages as she reads them. Or, have him create flash cards for vocab words. Don’t just study the biology diagram; try to replicate it. The more senses that are involved in the work, the more your child will retain and the less likely he will zone out and read the same thing over and over with no comprehension.
8. Table things that might make it hard to concentrate. Sometimes your child goes searching for a fact on the internet and gets distracted by, well, everything! I advise instead that when kids are writing papers, they close down all the research tabs and just concentrate on writing. It’s so easy to get sucked into surfing the net when looking for a specific statistic. Instead, put a placeholder down (insert stat here), and finish getting the thoughts on paper before going back to fine-tune. It really can make it feel as though they are making more significant progress when they avoid being distracted.
9. Get help. Sometimes an “outside force” can be very motivating. We hear from parents over and over that one of the benefits of reaching out to a professional tutor from Tutor.com is having that third party help keep their teen engaged and focused.
10. Have a reward! Let’s face it. We all complete our work better when there’s something awesome waiting for us at the end. Whether it’s a trip out for yogurt, 30 minutes of TV time or whatever feels treat-y to your child, make sure that they have identified what they want in advance and work towards it!