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 on their computer or their phone there is the draw to spend time on sites like Reddit, Instagram, YouTube, chat, and games like Fortnite. 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 with multitasking with several tabs open 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 them 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 or teen allowed to explore without supervision?
- How much time on social media is too much?
- Will technology be restricted to public areas of your house?
- How much Internet free time is available on weekdays? On weekends?
- Are phones allowed at the dinner table?
- Are your teens 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?
Parent Directed Solutions
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.
Many Internet providers provide some free parental control software and there are also free online programs such as Qustodio and K-9 Web Protection. Some parents opt for broader technical solutions that manage all devices, wired and wireless in the house. Disney Circle is one popular product. It allows parents to set time limits for particular websites and for total time online. It also allows filtering for types of websites the child or teen may visit.
Teen Directed Solutions
Teens in college will have full access to the Internet without parental supervision. The teen years can be a good time to encourage teens to learn steps to regulate their own time on screens. Many teens and adults find that using apps or filters help them focus. These programs allow the user to set a timer that block out distracting websites such as social media, games, or videos. 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. There are a wide variety of options available on the app store for phones and as add-ons for various browsers. iOS 12 for iphones includes a “screen time” feature that allows users to better understand how they are using their time and to set down time periods on their phone.
Share Your Experiences
I’d love to hear more about your family manages screen time. Please share solutions you’ve found that work.