Parent Resource

New Year, New Tech Habits

Technology Distracting from Homework - DCSchoolHUB

Addressing Digital Distractions when Helping with Homework

by Devorah Heitner, PhD, Author of Screenwise: Helping Kids Survive and Thrive in Their Digital World

Parents everywhere describe the scene. “Do you have any homework?” You ask as he grabs a cookie.

Your child’s teacher said to expect 45 minutes to one hour of homework each evening, but your kid has been sitting at her iPad for well over an hour.

Is she actually actually doing homework, or if she is playing games or chatting with friends? Homework that needs to happen on the tablet, chromebook or any digital device seems to talk longer.

Strategies to combat distraction

Here are some strategies to help you figure out what’s happening and to foster your child’s focus:

  • Are they really doing homework? Every time you look over, your child is engrossed in the device and doesn’t seem to be working. Is he obsessively checking fantasy football stats or thinking through a homework assignment? The textbook is open, but her phone is dinging. Another group text? If you think your child might be distracted, brainstorm with him on ways minimize any distractions. If your child has been using his tablet or laptop for some time, check in to see how it’s going.
  • Understand that kids don’t automatically know how to collaborate. Remember the group projects you used get assigned in school? Maybe you resented them; you’d rather just get things done on your own. Or, maybe you loved group dynamics and the fresh ideas that materialized. Digital tools make the logistics of collaborating easier, but they don’t make negotiating ideas and group work any easier. Sometimes teachers assign team projects assuming that kids already have the social skills to develop ideas together. Just like your kid needed to learn how to use the computer effectively, she also needs to learn how to collaborate. Guide your child to help set her up for success in her first team project. It may help to check in with a teacher to find out if there has been some guidance on the roles and expectations for each group member.
  • Set up balanced tech habits. Creating daily habits requires us to do less thinking about what we need to do next. When your kids were young, you set up lots of routines, such as taking a bath, brushing teeth, reading a book, and getting to bed. Homework time is an excellent opportunity to set up new habits with school-aged children. If your children know that after they grab a snack and play basketball for a half hour or so, it’s homework time. The more a daily homework habit takes hold, the less you’ll fight with your children about homework. A tech habit to help your child get into is using only one screen at a time. If he’s working on a computer, there’s rarely a good reason to be using simultaneously using a smartphone.
  • Set a good example. Your child’s homework time is also a great opportunity to work on your own “homework.” Maybe you have a report to finish for work, some emails to finish replying to, or some bills to pay. Let your child see you focusing on your task at hand without pausing to check your smartphone, multitasking, or double screening.
  • Let them stop. If there’s too much homework, let your children stop before the homework is complete. For younger kids, you can let the teacher know, older kids can let the teacher know on their own that this is what’s possible for your child to do in the time allotted. If teachers don’t get that feedback, they won’t know. Many families struggle with this as kids feel like they need to do everything assigned. Even if your child prefers not to stop, if homework is interfering with sleep or eating or other things your child needs to do (including downtime) then it is up to you to pull the plug.  You can advocate with the school if your child is getting too much homework.
  • Mentoring over monitoring. This is a great opportunity to mentor them instead of merely monitoring them. Make yourself available for questions, but stay out of their homework business. If your child seems frustrated or disengaged, feel free to ask her how it’s going and offer to help, but don’t push. Your kids should be doing their homework mostly independently. So, as much as you can, be available to assist, but encourage them to solve problems on their own. You shouldn’t be crossing their Ts or editing their work in most cases. Brainstorming with them to plan how to achieve the needed focus is more productive than hovering.