I’ve got a couple of tips for parents on how to guide their kids to take the bite out of stress around homework, especially for teenagers. And there is good data to back up my suggestions.
First, encourage kids to do one thing at a time; i.e. stop multitasking. Many teens do homework with several screens running simultaneously: the laptop screen they’re doing their paper on, a social network screen to catch up-to-date scuttlebutt going on amongst their friends, a phone to receive texts as well as Instagram messages, a TV to watch Netflix on, etc. This creates continuous pauses in their attention to homework, and that is extremely costly.
Research has shown that when we switch off our primary task to attend to interruptions, it can take 10-20 times the length of the interruption to regain our full attention. And if other tasks get lumped into the break, recovery time is even longer. Researchers at the University of Michigan found that productivity dropped as much as 40 percent when subjects tried to do two or more things at once. The switching exacts other costs too–mistakes and burnout. Unnecessary interruptions plus recovery time consumes an average of 28% of the knowledge worker’s day according to surveys done by Basex in 2006. This bodes very poorly for accomplishing homework.
I would encourage kids to do their homework on computers with no Internet access and to bury their cell phones in the backyard during these times. They could take breaks every hour to relax and catch up if necessary. And I bet they’d get more done, of higher quality, and in less time this way.
That leads me to my next suggestion; guide teens to get adequate sleep. Using the above ideas should help them get schoolwork done earlier, which is a start. The vast majority of teens today are sleep deprived, with many disturbing consequences including negative impacts on attention, memory, and school performance. It’s a vicious cycle with inadequate sleep causing poorer attention and functioning, which causes homework to take longer, delaying bedtime, and furthering sleep deprivation.
Work with your teenager to figure out a healthy evening routine that involves homework, screen time, relaxation, family time, and whatever wind-down techniques and time they need to doze off to ensure ample sleep. It may be a hard sell to convince them to keep some of their time screen free, but most adolescents begin to enjoy some respites from their gadgets once they’ve experienced it.
Homework should be a child’s responsibility, not their parents. But kids may need some guidance as written here to give them the tools to be more efficient and effective. And then mommy and daddy can slowly but surely work themselves out of the job of motivating and micromanaging the homework monster. Adults need the same prescriptions for more sleep and mindfulness, so learn these life skills together.