Plugged In and Tuned Out When Technology Interferes with Homework

By Ann K. Dolin, M.Ed.

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 any one of 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 labeled “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 his 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.

Be sure to praise your child for a job well done.

Consider returning electronics later in the evening.

If your child is one who will rush through homework just to have access to his 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 extracurricular 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 4:00 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 7:00 p.m. If, for example, he has soccer practice on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 5:30 to 6:30, still allow him access for a half hour after school. Expect that he start his homework before practice and then work on it again immediately after dinner when he returns. On those evenings, he may not earn screen time again until his work is completed.

Depending on the age of your child, you may be wondering…

What if he needs the computer for research?

The answer is to allow him to print out information needed for the writing portion of the assignment. That way, he’ll have the information, but won’t have continuous and distracting access to the Internet.

What if he needs to type his homework?

If your teen has a desk and computer in his room, but is constantly surfing the Internet when he should be doing homework, disable the Internet and run word processing programs only.

What should I do if I see him online or texting when he 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 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. If he breaks the rule, penalize him an hour and restrict his use until 8:00 p.m.

She says she focuses better when multitasking. Could this be true?

No. In fact, studies show that when kids continually multitask, they lose the ability to focus on one thing at a time. Picture your daughter with earphones in while listening to her iPod, texting furiously, and checking her Facebook 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.

She says she can’t focus without music. Should I allow her to listen?

There may be something to her claims. Studies show that the majority of kids do attend better with background music. If your child is productive when listening to her iPod, allow its use; however, if she is constantly distracted, then consider soft background music only.

By setting limits and boundaries, you will 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. Her award-winning book, Homework Made Simple: Tips, Tools and Solutions for Stress-Free Homework, offers proven solutions to help make homework less of a chore for the whole family. Learn more at

For Your Information:

Technology Can Be a Tool for Student Success, and a Distraction at Home by Hilton Colins

Failure to Connect: How Computers Affect Our Children’s Minds – and What We Can Do About It by Jane M. Healy

Growing Up Digital: How the Net Generation is Changing Your World by Don Tapscott

Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives by John Palfrey

Totally Wired: What Teens and Tweens are Really Doing Online by Anastasia Goodstein


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