How Can You Stop Your Kids from Multitasking?

Too much multitasking? Too much multitasking? By Caroline Knorr, Common Sense Media editor

Q. My kids insist that they need their devices while they're doing their homework. But I see them watching YouTube and checking texts. How do I get them to stop multitasking?

A. You're right to be concerned. Recent studies show that multitasking is detrimental to learning and that distractions weaken brain power. Even teachers are reporting that media has hurt their students' academic performance.

At the same time, school assignments often include a screen component -- researching a topic, doing problems on a math site, viewing and commenting on a YouTube video, or just writing a paper. But once kids are online, it's tough to stop.

Lots of parents struggle with how to manage multitasking. Ultimately, you want to help your kids develop their own self-restraint and concentration abilities. There's no one-size-fits-all solution, but here are some ideas to try:

  • Try to help your kids understand the value of training their mind to focus on a single task for long stretches. They may enjoy the challenge of strengthening their brain.
  • Establish separate times for homework and screen time. The twain shall never meet (unless a device is needed for an assignment, but otherwise: off!).
  • Phones go bye-bye during homework time.
  • Set a timer for a certain period, say 15 minutes, during which your kids must focus on the task at hand without checking a device. Consider allowing them a "device break" after successfully achieving a solid run.
  • Sort the work that requires devices from the work that doesn't. Make sure they complete the homework that doesn't require devices first.
  • Put a cap on the amount of time your kids have for homework each night -- something reasonable that takes into account their own estimates of how much time it should take. Establish consequences for not finishing in time.
  • Consider installing parental control software (like NetNanny) that lets you restrict Internet access for specific time periods.
  • Model the behavior you want your kids to emulate. If you're constantly reaching for your own phone/iPad/Kindle, then consider a 30-day Operation Focus to retrain your brain to unitask.

Got a question? Drop me a line or send me a tweet.

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