Staying productive and reducing digital distractions during online classes and homework time can pose a challenge to students. Many families have students who complete some or all of their education online, and from home.
We reached out to 21 experts to get their best tips to successfully manage remote learning and homework time without letting social media, games, and apps get in the way.
1. Schedule breaks for every block of homework time
Eric Kim, Co-owner and Program Director, LA Tutors
Even before we instituted remote schooling, many students struggled with online distractions. With all their classwork moving online, students may find it even easier to be on social media or play games during school hours. Students are going to be spending a lot of time in front of screens by necessity. However, if there are any homework assignments that can be done off the computer, such as math worksheets that can be printed out, or studying vocabulary off flashcards, parents should encourage students to do so to prevent screen time burnout.
For assignments that do have to be completed online, parents should recognize that it may be impossible for students to completely resist checking their social media or playing a quick game. Here, the flexible schedules of remote learning can actually be a benefit. Parents should encourage their child to take short, regular breaks where they are allowed to do non-learning activities or leisure activities as long as they then get back to work once they are done. Something like 25 minutes of studying followed by 5-10 minutes of TikTok is perfectly reasonable and may get better results out of your child than attempting to ban social media entirely.
During Zoom classes, when students really need to be dedicating their full attention, then parents can be stricter about forbidding social media. Confiscating phones during class time is probably a good idea, and in extreme cases parents may want to discuss disabling apps for younger students. In every case, parents should keep in mind that many students are stressed and missing their classmates so a little more leeway regarding student’s attempts to digitally keep in touch with their friends is perfectly reasonable.
2. Have everyone in your family sign a screen time agreement to help reduce digital distractions
Josh Ochs, Founder of SmartSocial.com
Parents ask me all the time how to know if their child is paying attention to their online class and doing their online assignment- or if they’re actually playing Fortnite or scrolling through TikTok. Unless you’re always in the same room as your child, it can be difficult to know exactly what your student is up to online. I always recommend having everyone in your family sign a smartphone and social media agreement and keeping the dialogue open about digital expectations and consequences.
The agreement can serve as an icebreaker for parents to cover key safety issues like screen time limits, sexting, cyberbullying, and more. It gives kids a glance at their own responsibilities as internet users and reminds them that using social media in a negative way or when they’re not supposed to can lead to consequences. Make sure the agreement is kept somewhere visible, like on the fridge or on their desk. Regularly referring back to the agreement will remind students of the commitments they made while they are taking remote classes or doing their online homework.
3. All school rules should be followed at home as well
Alice Anderson, Founder and Creator, Mommy to Mom
My kids have been fully remote learning for over a year now. I have a son in 1st grade and a daughter in 7th grade. Digital distractions aren’t really an issue for my son. His tablet for school is very limited as far as the amount of apps and websites he can access. The apps he uses for school are mostly considered play-based learning, so he doesn’t try to go on anything else anyway since he’s already playing.
It’s a little more tricky with my daughter since she has access to different apps and websites for school work. Basically, any rules that the school has, we keep the same at home. For example, she’s not allowed to have her cell phone in her room during school hours because she wouldn’t be allowed to have it at school.
She admitted to me one day that she was chatting during class a few times over Google Meets, which she knew she shouldn’t do. Not being in school has been difficult for her from a social aspect, so I try to be understanding and fair about the situation. The solution we decided on was to compromise by allowing her to chat during breaks, lunch, and study hall.
Sometimes she’ll finish her work early and ask if she can chat during class, which in that case I will agree to. I try to be lenient because she is an honor roll student and has adjusted really well considering the circumstances. She’s going to be a teenager next month and we want to keep the lines of communication open. Our daughter knows that as long as she is open and honest with us, we can talk about her mistakes and it won’t always end in a punishment. This approach has worked well for us so far.
4. Design a space conducive to school work
Thomas Vibe, Founder, Stone Wizards
One of the effective ways to remove digital distractions during remote learning and homework time is by carefully designing your child’s room to be conducive to studying. It should mimic or be better than classroom ambiance. If possible, provide your children separate space for studying and recreation. Set timers and reminders on their gadgets so that they will be urged to follow their schedule. If you can, give them small rewards to appreciate their consistency in following your ground rules in studying.
5. Turn phones on airplane mode and consider noise-canceling headphones for ultimate focus
Evan Weinberger and Wendy Weinberger, Co-founders, Illuminos Academic Coaching & Tutoring
Following decades of his own struggles with learning differences, Evan started an academic coaching company with the goal to equip students with the executive functioning skills, habits, and tools they need to manage stress and achieve greater success.
- Turn your phone on airplane mode so you can use it as a timer as needed
- Turn off your phone notifications
- Have a computer that is ONLY for school
- Find a place to do your homework where you ONLY do school work – no gaming, no talking to friends, no social media
- Use noise-canceling headphones to allow for better focus
- Allow for failure – if your child sneaks a peek at his phone, it is OK. It is not the end of the world for him – or you. Take a moment to relax and then try again
That’s a good time to gently encourage reflection and ask your child what was his motivation level? Did other things take priority over homework? How would success look in this circumstance, and what steps would they need to take to get there next time?
6. Gamify learning
Greg Freebury, Founder, Think & Evolve
Kids are obsessed with games these days, so if you are going to try to limit distractions with remote learning, you might as well make it fun by turning it into a game!
You can create quests, such as limiting the usage of specific apps to a set amount of time per day or restricting visiting certain websites during specified time periods. Completing each task earns points. Then, those points can be used to buy rewards like a chores pass, an extra hour of video games, the latest Fortnite skin, or whatever would be appealing to your kid.
If you want to take it even further, you could put up a scoreboard on the wall to keep track of all the quests, earned points, and possible rewards. You could also have your kids create their own avatars with a unique name and appearance to gamify it further and make it even more fun.
Taking a rather mundane, but necessary, task like limiting distractions and turning it into a game can really help entice your kids to participate more enthusiastically and transform a dull task into something fun and engaging.
7. Set time limits and goals before rewarding yourself with an activity
Mike Thompson, CEO, Hyperlend
The internet has good and bad effects, but presents a high possibility of disrupting learning. Here are some factors to consider:
- Set up the desired time limit for studying and other Internet interactions respectively. Make a chain of starting to study for some time and then awarding a 10-minute break to use other stuff and then back to studying.
- Accomplish your targets before taking steps towards fun activities. Try to complete work before treating yourself with other activities as it would not lead to distraction.
- Make use of applications that allow you to use selected apps for a specified period. After the limit usage, the app will close and will not open for the next 24 hours.
8. Set yourself up for success by planning your entire schoolwork day
Adam Shlomi, Founder, SoFlo SAT Tutoring
It is undeniable that students across the globe suffer from a common issue in regards to their education: lack of productivity. One of the most significant reasons for the lack of productivity amongst students is distractions caused by social media.
Here’s what students can do to balance homework and their devices:
- Turn off notifications so there isn’t any temptation while studying
- Figure out what works for you
- Create a plan for study and homework
- Put the phone away during study times
- Take breaks every half hour
- Set up specific hours where no technology will be used
9. Schedule breaks and set rules on no phones during working time
Adam Garcia, CEO, The Stock Dork
Remote learning challenges students with a number of different distractions around them. Electronic devices that allow access to social media and chatting apps lead the way in distractions. One minute, you could be studying, and the next minute you could be spending 20 minutes scrolling through your social media newsfeed without even realizing it.
An excellent solution is to take scheduled breaks for this purpose. For example, a 15-minute break after every hour can allow you to study and spend time using social media as well. Make sure that when not on break, you put your device to “do not disturb” mode and block social media websites on your laptop. Not getting notifications will keep you from hopping on to social media unnecessarily.
10. It’s up to you to learn self-control
Carla Diaz, Broadband Search
Having run a remote business for some time now, and working remotely myself, I’ve learned a lot about dealing with digital distractions (especially when many of these distractions come from the very devices you need in order to do your work). You need to teach yourself self-control. If you catch yourself going over to social media on your phone/computer, take note of that and try to stop it. It’s only a matter of time before you realize you’ve been scrolling for hours.
If you don’t get the hang of stopping yourself from becoming distracted, you need to put limitations in place that’ll do it for you. Put certain devices that you might not need away from you or download an app that restricts your access to certain apps while you’re working. Even if you know the password to these applications, those extra steps of needing to use more passwords and change your preferences to access those apps might help deter you and keep your focus on work. As you do this for longer, it should become easier and you should see your productivity improve.
11. Create a workspace at home for your teen
Vicky Cano, Chef & Recipe Developer, Meal Fam
Create a separate classroom space. Exactly as we talk about a separate and designated workspace at home for workers, students also need a separate space where they can study in peace without digital distractions. Parents should create a space that is quiet and peaceful, and make sure it only has the necessary furniture like a chair and a table, and equipment such as a computer on which their child can do the homework. There shouldn’t be any digital devices except for the one on which the kid is studying, to minimize distractions. Also, use parental locks on that device so that the kid can’t access social media on it. If the student has to work on their tablet or PC that they use for entertainment as well, make sure it has a parental lock until they complete their homework, and that all the notifications are turned off.
12. Align your work from home schedule with your teen’s school schedule
Pavel Ladziak, Founder, The Beard Struggle
For me, the best way to manage remote learning and homework time is to provide a supportive environment. Since I also work from home, I limit my use of gadgets at home outside working hours. I align my working hours with my son’s class schedule. Then, we spend our weekends playing video games for two hours only. After that, I help him do his homework. In that way, he will see how gadgets are used for studying and for leisure properly. Above all, this leads him to create a good study habit.
13. Create positive habits in your teens and add entertainment breaks into homework time
Jessica Robinson, The Speaking Polymath
A habit cannot be reversed in a single day. It takes some time and effort to do so. This means that if a child is habitual of spending most of his time with their smartphone, then, parents will have to help them get rid of this habit slowly. One of the best things parents can do is to set up a no digital time during the day for the entire family and reward the child for their success in abiding by the rule. Further, the rewards should be such that they can actually motivate the child to stay away from his smartphone during the decided time. Yummy snacks, a new comic book, and some extra pocket money are some examples of alluring rewards that can inspire kids to abide by the no digital device time.
14. Consider writing notes old school style with pen and paper
Elizabeth Hicks, Co-founder, Parenting Nerd LLC
Here are two tips to be successful with remote learning:
Make yourself as organized as you do for your physical classes on campus. Before the school season begins, ensure that you have enough technical equipment to access the required course material. Furthermore, you need to have enough writing material, like a pe and writing pad for making quick reliable notes for the class.
Set Up Your Workspace:
Set up a dedicated learning environment for studying. When choosing a workplace try to limit distraction as much as possible both psychologically and online. If you’re at home, resist the urge to turn on the television or finish that last load of laundry. Ensure that your internet connection is strong enough as to not cause a hurdle while you are studying.
15. Set up a designated school space in your home
Melissa Scatena, CEO of Scattered Solutions
I suggest setting up a homework/homeschool space in your home. Things to keep in mind:
- Try to choose a quiet space in a less busy part of the house, an environment that will naturally minimize distractions. It’s important to choose this area and stick with it
- Choose functional furniture and stock up on supplies. We suggest avoiding couches or lap desks and instead opt for a traditional desk or a small table and chair. Consider adding a soft cushion on the chair — when kids feel uncomfortable, they’re more prone to stirring and squirming, leading to distraction and disorganization. With regard to supplies, be sure to stock up on pens, pencils, and markers. We also suggest including a timer on your supplies list, which you can use to give your child a brain break for intervals of uninterrupted work
- Reserve space for a calendar and to-do list. Important, visible anchors like these will make your child’s in-house homeschool/homework space an area that encourages building on small tasks to reach larger goals
Melissa came on the SmartSocial.com Podcast to share her tips to reduce digital distractions during online classes:
16. Help your students keep their senses activated
Karen Gross, Author and Educator
Parents need to recognize that many children cannot concentrate for long periods of time in an online class learning setting. So, distractions are not necessarily all bad. They may give a student a needed breathing space to refocus and settle their minds before they re-engage.
- Offer food to students that they can snack on between classes or while online learning (if the teacher allows). This helps them concentrate more effectively and adds comfort to the experience
- Give students fidget toys to keep their hands busy while they are learning online. This will allow them to get some of their excess energy out
- Let them access online in different physical positions: a chair, a bed, standing, a countertop. Switch up where they learn and see which setting is best for concentration
- Let students do something constructive if they are going to be distracted. That is one reason I wrote a word play book. A riddle book or joke book works too
- Provide students with paper and amazing colored pencils or unique crayons or cray-pas and let them doodle while learning online
The key is to keep their senses activated and to enable them to use distractions constructively.
17. Allow teens to take scheduled social media breaks to communicate with friends
Arash Fayz, Executive Director of LA TUTORS 123
Doing as much homework off the computer as possible will help minimize distractions and prevent burnout from too much screen time. For assignments that do have to be completed online, parents should recognize that it may be impossible for students to completely resist checking their social media or playing a quick game. Here, the flexible schedules of remote learning can actually be a benefit.
Parents should encourage their child to take short, regular breaks where they are allowed to do whatever they’d like on the computer as long as they then get back to work once they are done. Something like 25 minutes of studying followed by 5-10 minutes of TikTok is perfectly reasonable for teens, and may get better results out of your child than attempting to ban social media entirely.
During Zoom classes, when students really need to be dedicating their full attention, then parents can be stricter about forbidding social media. Confiscating phones during class time is probably a good idea, and in extreme cases, parents may want to discuss disabling apps for younger students.
In every case, parents should keep in mind that many students are stressed and missing their classmates, so a little more leeway regarding student’s attempts to digitally keep in touch with their friends is perfectly reasonable.
18. Create new study habits to embrace a new normal during remote learning
Laura Adams, Analyst at Aceable
Use these tips to minimize distractions, maintain focus, and create new study habits to make the most of digital learning during the pandemic.
- Turn off unnecessary alerts: Getting incoming notifications and alerts can derail a student’s ability to concentrate. Make sure computer and phone apps, such as social media, weather, package delivery, and email, are set to be silent during class and study times
- Keep reminders handy: Get your student in the habit of writing down one to three goals or tasks they need to accomplish each day on a sticky note. Keeping these goals as a note on their computer or nearby can be an easy way to refocus when distractions arise
- Use a study partner: If your student would enjoy social interaction with another good student, having a dedicated partner may help them achieve more. Consider putting a time limit on their communication to make sure the lessons get completed
- Consider getting a tutor: At some point, your student is likely to have trouble with a subject. Make sure you communicate the importance of asking for help. If a teacher can’t spend enough time with your child, consider hiring an online or in-person tutor, such as an older student
- Match tasks with energy: If your student finds it difficult to concentrate on studies during a particular time of day, encourage them to work at a different time. For instance, if they have more focus at night, consider allowing them to study later
- Use study blocks: It can be challenging for young people to maintain focus for long periods. Consider setting a timer for study blocks, such as 30 minutes, and then a 10-minute break. This structure gives students a quick reward for putting in some hard work
19. Create structure with a daily plan
Dylan Howard, 21stCentEd Virtual STEM Academy
One approach to help students focus and to reduce digital distractions is parents helping their kids create structure at home. You do this by creating a plan for the following day at the end of every day. What assignments need to get accomplished? What order do they want to do them in? And by what time do they want to have them done?
For many students, learning remotely gives them the freedom to do their work when, and how they want. Schools not only provide social interaction, but structure to their life. By creating an at-home structure for school, remote students can be more productive by knowing what they need to do and by what time they would like to be done with it. This allows time for breaks, lunch, relaxing, etc.
20. Gradually build up restricted device time to reduce digital distractions
Quincy Smith, Founder of ESL Authority
All students will eventually need the self-discipline to manage this issue themselves, but I have some suggestions for parents who are starting from scratch with kids who have never had any kind of device restrictions before.
Our first tip is to slightly limit something outside of school work. For example, a parent of one of my students started by limiting their kids to one hour of video games per day. This was a big adjustment for this student, but eventually, they came to really value this one hour.
Once the student is familiar with the idea of being restricted, apply the same tactic to another device. Our suggestion is to first deny access to their phone for a certain time in the evening, maybe during dinner. Reinforce that it is not permanent and make sure to give the device back on time in order to build trust.
From there, either increase the time period, add an additional hour somewhere in the day, and move into homework time if it’s going well. We suggest establishing a set time for homework and limiting phone access during that time.
This process can continue to scale as needed, but the trick is not to go too far in the beginning. Parents and teachers need to make it doable for students just starting out and then build up trust and consistency, so it simply becomes part of the routine.
21. Help your student understand the importance of the schoolwork and homework
Zoie Hoffman, Hoffman Tutoring Group
As a certified elementary teacher and tutor, Zoie Hoffman has dedicated herself to spending time helping individual students reach their educational goals.
On this episode of the SmartSocial.com Podcast, Zoie shares her best tips parents can use to prevent screens from turning into homework distractions:
Hoffman says to have a mindset shift about what homework and school work is all about. Some kids think that homework is something they have to get through because their parents and teachers say so. Parents can help by placing the responsibility for getting those things done with their kids and help them understand why they need to do it.
Have discussions with your child about why homework is important. Here are some talking points:
- Homework allows students to move towards mastery
- The more they practice, the more results they’ll see in what they can do academically
- Routinely doing homework will help increase grades and help students better reach their goals
Parents should show students, in some way, that they can also prevent digital distractions when they are working or concentrating on a task. For example, put your phone away when you sit down to write work emails, pay the bills, or make a grocery list. If your kid sees you without your phone during those times, it will speak louder than you simply telling them. Model what you want your child to do.