Distractions are an inescapable reality of our lives. As adults, we also get distracted – but we know that we have to pay a price for it. Preteens and teens are at the crossroads, between being a child and an adult. They do not always have the maturity to realise the consequences of distraction.
For them, this is a period of growth and ceaseless exploration of ever-widening horizons. They may pride themselves at multi-tasking, but focusing on one thing at a time is crucial if one has to store the information for later use.
The following strategies may help your child focus on the task at hand and give her a sense of accomplishment:
Set an example
Keep reiterating to your child the many things you are able to do at home and at work because you focus. Tell her that the act of paying attention and focusing helps you save time to do many more exciting things. She should consciously and deliberately focus in class, to save time re-learning the lesson. The time saved can be spent as she wishes!
You can also highlight the consequences of not focusing without preaching and help her make good choices. “Parents can encourage children to think about a logical consequence if the school or academic work is not completed. They can then highlight what can be done to avoid those consequences,” says Pune-based psychologist Dr Natasha D’Cruz.
You may share this tip, offered by a Psychology Today study, with your child: “Consider suppressing or modifying certain feelings if they are inconsistent with your immediate goals. For example, if you are angry over something or even too pumped up, ask: What does this feeling have to do with what I am trying to accomplish at the moment? If the answer is that it is detrimental, then let go of it or compensate for the feeling—sometimes students, athletes, business people have to act differently from the way they are feeling to get the job done. Focus on your overall goal and how it relates to other goals. Get to know your capabilities (good and harmful) under the influence of specific emotions you feel often. Learn to work with where you are at.”
Help your child with goal-setting. Ask her to draw three columns on a paper, and list her long-term, medium-term and short-term goals. For example, if your child’s long-term goal is to become a doctor, her medium-term goals would be to clear the exams each year while her short-term targets would be to finish topics as they are taught.
With this perspective, help your child settle upon a goal for each study session. She may wish to complete one chapter, understand the concepts, take a short break, revisit the lesson and solve problems.
Technology, in the form of TV, cell phones, Play Stations and Internet, seems to be the biggest attraction and cause of distraction among teens.
“This urge of your child to check cell phones every ten minutes can be tamed. Give him specific ‘technology breaks’ when he can check his phone or the Internet, and then ask him to turn the phone to silent mode and focus on studies. You can request him to tell his friends not to call during his study hours. You can also keep the phone and the computer in a separate room, and let your child stay in another room with his books and notes for company,” says Chennai-based psychiatrist Dr S Mohan Raj.
As your child minimises the tech breaks, he will focus more on the lessons. “The trick is to gradually lengthen the focus time to teach yourself (and your children) how to focus for longer periods of time without being distracted,” says a Psychology Today study.
Best thinking time:
Children should study difficult subjects during that time of the day when they feel mentally and physically fresh.
Create a comfortable and quiet study place, far away from TV or the hustle-bustle of domestic life. Minimize interruptions from other people and noise so that your child can concentrate.
A time for everything:
When your child says that he has too many projects sharing the same deadline, help him create a timetable with personal deadlines for each project. He will learn to spread his work appropriately.
Sometimes, while researching a topic online, your child may come across multiple interesting and informative links not directly related to his topic. To ensure that he does not waste precious time on such sites and lose focus, ask him to note down the links so that he can visit these at leisure after completing his work.
“The key would be to prioritise activities and parents can help with this. There is enough time in a week to accommodate the required academic work and fun activities. Too much of one at the expense of the other is detrimental to the child. A little bit of planning and patience can achieve this crucial balance,” adds Natasha.
When the mind wanders:
“During study time, children tend to think of catching up with their friends at a nearby mall or a coffee shop. Once you let them know that after two-three hours of study or every Saturday evening they can catch up with their friends for an allotted hour, they will stop thinking about it all the time,” says Mohan Raj.
Break the monotony at work:
Your child will retain information better if she changes the subject she is studying every two or three hours. Studying continuously at a stretch may also tire your child and make it difficult for her to retain concepts. Short breaks are needed to break the monotony. Let her take a walk, take a short nap or do what she feels like before she resumes work.
Motivate your child when he feels de-motivated and overburdened with too much work. Tell him that everything is achievable. It is important to make him believe that goals are well within his ability to achieve. Guide him as needed to develop organisational skills. Meditation and yoga can also work wonders in building his confidence.
Invent your own strategies:
There is always room for innovation. Seventeen-year-old Saakshi Agarwal, who is studying for her medical entrance exams, wears earplugs to block out noise. “I got tired of telling my friends to study quietly. Some of them read aloud, while others listen to songs without using their headphones. There is noise everywhere. My parents gave me a pair of ear plugs which I wear when studying. It really helps. A few of my friends, too, have adopted my strategy,” says Saakshi, who stays at a hostel in Hyderabad.
At the end of the day, your child alone is the best person to manage her time. Setting goals, learning to work with her own timetable, and staying focused on the goals will definitely go a long way in helping her avoid distractions.