One of the most common concerns I hear from parents homeschooling high school is the difficulty of managing distractions online. This is particularly a problem with online courses. For many students any time they are the Internet there is the draw to spend time on sites like Reddit, Instagram, Facebook, chat, Minecraft and Twitter. In this article we will explore ways to manage work in an age of Internet distraction.
Is It Really a Problem?
Obviously, if your student is closing out the screen every time you come in the room and you can see they are getting behind in an online class you know it is a problem. However, even if your student is getting good grades, online distractions may still be a concern. They may be able to get the work done but if they are doing so with several windows open on the desktop they may be developing inefficient habits that will not serve them well in college and career. In a national study, 87% of AP teachers reported that technologies are creating an “easily distracted generation with short attention spans” and 64% said digital technologies “do more to distract students than help them academically.” Engaging in constant multitasking may undermine students’ ability to really focus and get the most from their education.
Getting the Internet Under Control
Set Clear Limits and Expectations
The first step is to set clear expectations and limits for technology. Having no expectations or limits is setting kids up to fail. While your kids may break the rules or test the limits, it is still better to have limits than to leave them guessing at what is expected. Before your kids settle into years of bad habits, work with your teen to establish a family policy with reasonable limits for how, where, and when technology will be used in your family.
Think about these questions:
- What parts of the Internet is your child allowed to explore without supervision?
- Will technology be restricted to public areas of your house?
- How much Internet free time is available on weekdays? On weekends?
- Are they allowed to take breaks from schoolwork to have fun online? How will they get back on task?
- Is the Internet “private” in your family? Do you have access to your child’s passwords, email, browsing history?
Even for people with the best of intentions, the temptation of Internet distractions can be very strong. Many families find it helpful to use technology to help act as a reminder of limits. This technology can be as simple as a kitchen timer set for 30 minutes to remind a child when it is time to turn off the computer and do chores or get outside and take a walk. For the more high tech version of the kitchen timer check out free sites like Self Control or Focal Filter. These programs allow you to set a timer that blocks out certain websites like Facebook for the period of time you specify. This technology often works best with teens when you offer it not as a punishment but as a tool they can use to help control their own behavior. Having the experience of successfully getting schoolwork done more quickly without distractions may serve as a motivator to cut down on distractions in the future.
Forest is an app that allows users to become more mindful of smart phone distractions. Staying off your phone for 30 minutes grows a tree and over time users can build a forest. Check the phone during your set period and the tree will die. This kind of visual reminder can be helpful when changing a habit.
Finally, most families find it helpful to install at least some kind of parental control features. While the most tech savvy kids may find ways around this, it is still worthwhile as a means to avoid accidental exposure to inappropriate content. Many Internet providers provide some free parental control software and there are also free online programs such as Qustodio and K-9 Web Protection.