When your child’s homework assignment is online it can be an immense challenge for them to stay on task.
They can be experiencing a host of uncomfortable feelings related to their school work, such as a sense of “why do I need to learn this anyway,” or frustration of an overly challenging problem set or the stress of having to write about a topic they are not interested in, or they are just plain bored.
And then the new reality that just one click away is a treasure trove of funny videos, a favorite YouTube on how to do their hair for school tomorrow, their favorite video gamer taking on a wickedly high level… it’s a recipe for distraction.
The good news is that millions of teens are in this situation and still manage to get their work done. But it is not easy for most of them. And the reality is that many other youths often cannot stay on task.
I want to lay out some ideas that have worked for families in this regard. Hopefully, you will find a tip or two that can help in your home.
Be sympathetic. Tell them that you understand it is hard to stay on task. As always, having conversations about this topic with your kids over the course of years is key.
Share your workspace with your kids, even if it is cramped (maybe even better!). My daughter Tessa is now a senior in high school, and she does not have a desk in her bedroom — hasn’t for years actually. Instead, we have a common office where we hang out and do work together. I see firsthand when she is staying on task. Meanwhile, now and then I ask what she is working on, and she will tell me and sometimes it is watching a video — and she will tell me how she got other things done and plans to go back but needed a break. I can tell that my occasional questions do provide a bit of accountability so that she does not go too long down the YouTube hole or other online siphons.
“Name more of what you want to get” is what the brilliant Tammy Fisher Huson says in our new film Screenagers: NEXT Chapter. Fisher Huson is the author of “There Is Always Something Going Right,” and she is a wealth of knowledge about raising emotionally intelligent youth. So from her teachings, I have started doing two key things with my teens: a) Validating the challenges they face to stay on task, and b) Pointing out times that they do stay focused on challenging work. As Tammy has taught me, I hold up a mirror to my kids and show the proof of their succeeding. It is not empty praise but reality-based.
Work with your kid regarding certain homework assignments that can be printed out and worked on with all tech out of the room. Doing this can help youth who are really challenged with certain assignments.
Build-in positive incentives. Maybe after 20 minutes of staying on task, you do something fun for a few minutes together, or they get some tech time.
Encourage your kids to talk with their teachers. Usually, kids are themselves frustrated by how long homework is taking them due to task shifting. Going to the teacher and admitting that this is a challenge is a wonderful chance for your child to practice self-advocacy. Incidentally, these themes figure prominently in Screenagers NEXT CHAPTER: Uncovering Skills for Stress Resilience.
A KEY THING is to have tech time be over at a set time during the week. So if your 9th grader knows that they can’t have their device to do homework past a given time (perhaps around 9 or 10 p.m), it is up to them to finish their work by that time. I know it is hard to do anything that entails your child *not* finishing their homework, but a few missed deadlines can really change things. Your kids will procrastinate less when they know, “In our home, I only have tech until 10 and it is firm.”
Be ready for your own work. Implementing any of these techniques takes energy and it also means for many of us parents, learning to not be derailed by a host of emotions, such as guilt, that can arise when enforcing a rule.
Teaching kids to focus in the face of online distractions will definitely pay off as things start working better AND your kid gets the extra benefit of more sleep.
Here are a few questions to start a conversation about staying on task with homework:
Where are your favorite places to do homework? Is it possible to share spaces together more often?
How much of your homework has to be done on a computer? Parents can answer the same question for their own work.
What types of breaks from studying really rejuvenate you?
What is a reasonable amount of time to focus just on homework before a break? Before a tech break? How long should the tech break be?