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Learning with Technology

Should I be concerned about my teen's constant multitasking during homework?

Many teens multitask with media while doing their homework, and most of them think this has no effect on the quality of their work. Consider the stats:

  • 51 percent of teens say they often or sometimes watch TV during homework.
  • 50 percent often or sometimes use social media while doing homework.
  • 60 percent often or sometimes text during homework.
  • 76 percent often or sometimes listen to music during homework. (In fact, 50 percent of teens think listening to music helps their work vs. 6 percent who think it hurts.)

But, despite what kids think and do, frequently using several devices at a time affects the ability to focus. Productivity suffers when switching rapidly between different tasks because the brain has to re-focus every time it switches to a new activity. Over time, heavy multitaskers can also have trouble with face-to-face conversations. 

The challenge for parents is figuring out what's normal (but frustrating) teen behavior and what are truly unhealthy study habits. Listening to music while doing homework seems harmless, but many studies have shown that listening to popular music with lyrics can hurt reading comprehension and the ability to do complex tasks, but that more "zen-like" and classical music does not. But if your teens' academics are slipping, that's a red flag. Discuss your concerns and talk about ways to structure homework time, such as turning off cell phones and TV for a certain amount of time or allowing kids to check their texts only after they complete each assignment. Consider asking your kids to write down assignments and have them check each off as they finish them. Maybe offer rewards for finishing in a timely manner, since multitasking tends to make homework time drag on.

If your kid is really having a tough time blocking out distractions and staying focused, you might need some technical assistance. If your kid's school uses a 1-to-1 device program, ask the teacher if it comes with some time-management software or other controls that allow you to restrict access to non-homework-related sites. If your kid is using your home computer to do work, you might consider a parental-control program such as OpenDNS or KidsWatch that lets you separate homework from playtime.

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Teen, 14 years old written by Emily217564

Coming from a teenager, I think that even though some kids can multitask it would b difficult for them to be on their phone and do homework without being distracted. I tend to go on my phone when writing an essay sometimes and I think that is a form of procrastination without you realizing it. Teenagers get sucked into the hole of social media and don't come out for a while. It's ok to listen to music while you are doing homework, but you need to make sure you stay off your phone, so you won't get distracted.
Teen, 14 years old written by Chloe04

Honestly, coming from a teen? I'd like to say no, don't worry, but that would be partially wrong for some, if not most scenarios. I'm personally not allowed to multitask at all while doing my work, and I grudgingly find that its true. Perhaps it's because I'm accustomed to the silence while doing work, but I find that my productivity drops a good 90% while watching TV, 50% with my phone, and 20% with music (lyrics).
Teen, 13 years old written by Frostwing8369

I do find watching tv or listening to music with words distracting sometimes, but listening to music without lyrics helps me focus. Really, it depends on the person.
Teen, 13 years old written by Bambi17

It depends, I listen to music while I do my homework or sometimes watch movies i have seen before while doing homework. So it depends if it is causing his or her grades to drop