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Get Smarter About Phones and Homework Time

Hey Mooooom, you can’t take my phone! I can’t finish my homework without it! 

No exaggeration; the panic was at EHC level.

Remember when all you required to get your homework done was a beat-up textbook, lined paper, and a No. 2 pencil? No doubt, the academic field at every level of schooling has changed — dramatically. Today's digital kids are fingers buried in the smartphone culture. And, even if you desired to pull the plug and go back in time to a simpler life, you’d be hard pushed to do so and have your child keep up academically with his or her peers. The classroom is now nearly completely online. 

  • Teachers connect with students online
  • kids take notes online
  • kids do research online
  • many exams are online
  • and, often, books, videos, and tutorials can only be accessed — you guessed it right, online!
And, unlike their parents, digital natives collaborate with other students in online learning groups via live chat apps like FaceTime (which explains the laughter outbursts while analyzing Shakespearian story that we parents seldom had the satisfaction of experiencing!).

All of this is good — till it’s not. Like everything that’s useful, misusing technology while learning can have some pretty serious consequences such as

  • lower grades,
  • lost sleep,
  • cheating,
  • and overall academic laziness.

Study: Tech, homework link

According to the study conducted by  the American Association of Pediatrics (AAP) researchers at Brown University in Rhode Island reveals that those kids who use digital media devices four to six hours a day are approximately half as expected to complete their assignments as kids who use their devices less than two hours daily.


Could tech be the reason behind the failure in this first semester? It’s possible. As Yoda warns, “with much power, comes much responsibility.” It’s not black and white. Parents have to be more on their game than ever before. That said, how can we help our kids keep learning first when they are holding a hyper-social device in their hands 24/7?

Study tips for digital kids:

  • Hands-on parenting.

The Internet and technology have unfolded a whole new world making learning far more fun and engaging. From a parent’s point-of-view, perhaps the best way to help kids balance their tech is to know first hand what’s going on in their world. This cultural shift means
checking assignments, keeping in close touch with teachers, and knowing when digital learning wounds from collaborative to disturbing. While your child may fight he or she needs their phone to complete an assignment, a quick email to a teacher will give you a clear picture of what’s actually required. Stay in the loop to help your child succeed.

  • Install filters.

Because so much educational content resides online, it’s more necessary than ever to have parental controls and filtering installed on your home computer. If you don’t, at a minimum, learn how to turn on the safe search on both Google and YouTube, the two most popular search engines for kids.

  • Create tech boundaries.

Together, build a technology policy that works for your family. A plan may involve unplugged spaces in the home or unplug during certain times of the day. For example, no tech use during homework time, at dinner time, and bedtime can be a start. If you get stumped on where to start on a plan, here’s some inspiration.

  • Be the sheriff.

Boundaries and ground rules sound great but enforcing them is where most parents gradually start to lose the battle. It’s easier to keep watching your favorite TV show, making dinner, doing laundry, or checking your email, than it is to be the technology sheriff in the house regularly.  However, doing rather than saying is where the fruit of good parenting begins to show. Be the sheriff. Though kids will argue they have a unique superpower that allows them to multi-task (text, listen to music, video chat) while doing homework, do not fall for their passionate reasoning — studies show there’s no replacement for focused work.

  • Protect their Zzzs.
Sleep is the secret code of learning. A fresh report from King’s College London found that smartphone use before bedtime had harmful short and long-term effects on kids six to 14, stating: The effects of poor sleep can lead to short and long-term health consequences including (but not exclusive to): obesity; decreased immunity; and poor mental health. Translation: Poor sleep equals poor health, which in turn, affects school performance. 

  • Designate homework space.
With expanded technology use, laziness and distraction can quickly set in. Create a homework space devoted to learning and even a regular time to work on daily assignments (a fixed period may not be practical for some kids). Doing this gives your child the message that schoolwork is important, time is to be well spent, technology is to be off, and disturbances limited.

  • Keep a worry pad.
If your tween or teen is used to texting all day or is easily distracted when studying, keep a worry or a thought pad nearby. A worry pad provides your child to note down random or stressful thoughts—or even good ideas–to tackle with once she finishes her homework. It might also help to remove them off of the texting habit and train them to focus on a single task. (Psst: Having a worry pad nearby during the work day is also a very good idea for adults)!
  • Reward system.
If you choose to ban smartphone use during homework time, you may want to set up rewards such as tech breaks. For example, for every hour of homework, allow your child 15-minute tech breaks to check in with friends and relax. Rewards make getting back to work easier — that's why adults have cake in the break room, right?

  • Block the Internet. 
Let’s face it: Sometimes the tech attraction is just too fabulous. If it’s a smartphone creating the main distraction, you may need to take it away until homework is completed and if the web is the more successful temptress, try the Freedom website for blocking the Internet for a set amount of time.

  • Use study apps wisely.
 If too much tech isn’t the problem and simply distracted tech is causing grades to slip, these apps may assist in learning. Take a look at these to empower your child’s learning:

Quizlet for test prep resources,
Fetchnotes for organizing notes and thoughts,
Study Buddy for helping curb distractions during study time,
Duolingo app that helps kids study languages,
Grammar Up helps improve both grammar and vocabulary skills,
and Spark Notes, an app that gives students access to literature, poetry, and short story summaries.

Important note: With all resources, it’s important to stress to your child the importance of attribution and the difference between a learning resource and plagiarism. While the Internet opens up exciting realms of information to students, it doesn’t replace learning the content and applying it as required.

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