Online Homework Distractions and How to Stop Them

Sep 20, 2016

Many parents can relate to the nightly homework struggle when kids want to hang out with friends, watch TV, play video games, or basically - do anything besides their homework. Once parents actually get their kids to sit down and get started, the battle continues with constant distractions like siblings, friends, and TV, but one of the most prominent distractions nowadays is the internet.

Obviously the internet is an amazing tool and most school assignments are now done online or need the internet to complete. It’s opened the world of education, but has also created a pattern of constant distractions in students. Multi-tasking seems to be the new norm, and studies show students can’t seem to stay focused on a task for more than two minutes. Most homework or studying time is spent in what Dr. Larry Rosen, a professor at California State University - Dominguez Hills, calls “Continuous Partial Attention.” This means that students are spending most of their time switching between studying and technology, but students who have learned to limit homework distractions are found to have higher GPAs.

A surprising fact that researchers have found is that “People who multitask are NOT being more productive – they just feel more emotionally satisfied from their work.” So really, even though your teen may say that they are getting more work done efficiently while they have Netflix on in the background and they are texting all their friends, they are just feeling a sense of satisfaction for getting all that done at once and not actually getting a great deal done.

What are online homework distractions?

Social Media: One of the biggest online distractions is social media. Sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat are making it harder than ever for kids to stay focused on homework. The constant smartphone notifications make it nearly impossible to ignore and the lure of social media can be a lot stronger than the urge to get back to math homework. A 2016 study published in the International Journal of Communication, showed that students who regularly use social media are likely to show lower scores in math, reading and science than students who don’t regularly use social media. While it’s a common outlet for many kids, limiting social media use, especially while studying or doing homework, could have serious benefits.

Videos: Websites like YouTube, Vimeo, and Vine with a seemingly endless supply of videos are especially easy for students (and adults) to get sucked into. Kids may take a harmless break from homework to watch a quick video and before they know it, they’ve wasted a good chunk of time.

Chat: Many of us in the professional world, especially those that work online, know just how distracting chat platforms can be. It's the same for students. Messenger applications like iMessage, Facebook Messenger, and Skype, make students susceptible to constant distractions. And it’s nearly impossible for kids to stay 100% focused on homework while carrying on a conversation via chat or text.

How to stop online distractions and stay focused on homework:

Distractions are a form of everyday life and we can’t prevent them all, but online distractions can be relatively controlled. A few ways parents can teach kids how to focus on homework are:

  1. Turn off phones, put phones in a different room, or put them in a “do not disturb” mode. The do not disturb function on the Net Nanny for example is great because as a parent I can remotely “Pause the Internet” for whatever time of day I select. I can block the internet during homework time, meal time, or bed time. With the internet paused it stops all notifications from appearing on your screen and stops all notification tones or alerts.

  2. Restrict social media and messenger use while doing homework. Since social media is such a large distraction, parents should set restrictions on social media use and messaging apps until homework is completed. One easy way to monitor this is by creating a space for homework in a communal room. Rather than letting your child do homework in their room with doors shut, setup a workspace in the living room or family room where parents can easily see their computer screen.

  3. Provide other break outlets. It’s important to give your kids’ brain a much needed break while doing homework or studying, but it's much more beneficial and efficient to encourage your kids to take a physical break rather than perusing online. This means they can go for a quick walk, play a game of ping pong, play with the family pet, or kick a soccer ball around. Getting up and doing something physical for 10 or 15 minutes can help your child refresh and get back on track. It gives the brain a bit of a break without letting them get caught up in the lure of social media or online activities.

  4. Make homework a routine. It may not always be possible to have your child do homework at the same time every day, but if you can keep it relatively consistent, it will be easier for them to detach from technology and focus. If kids know they come home from school, have a snack and within 30 minutes will start homework, they get into a pattern and know during that time they will be disconnected from technology while focusing on school.

With approximately 80% of students reporting they spend most of their studying time switching back and forth between homework and online distractions, it’s important for parents to do their best to create a quiet, peaceful, distraction-free homework setting whenever possible. This isn’t always easy in the world of technology, but online distractions can be lessened by setting a few simple rules, restricting phone and social media use, and encouraging healthy after school homework and break routines at an early age.