School is back in session for students across Chicago. This year, since the pandemic has moved classes online, parents believe it’ll be harder than ever to manage children and keep them focused on schoolwork, according to a recent study.
In July, a Pew Research study found that half of parents with at least one child age 12 or younger, who may also have an older kid, believed the amount of time kids spent on devices could affect school performance. As for teens, a 2018 Pew Research study found 95% of teens, ages 13 to 17, have a smartphone and nearly half say they’re online “almost constantly.” Unfortunately, long hours of screen time has become mandatory with e-learning. But online games, social media and other tempting distractions could make it difficult to focus on class Zoom sessions. Below are tips from experts to ensure kids get the most out of school even though they’re at home.
Put nonlearning devices away
Both adults and children may feel the urge to pick up a device just because it’s around. “Our devices are addictive and designed to be that way,” said Dr. Megan DeFrates, a clinical associate of pediatrics at the University of Chicago Comer Children’s Hospital. “They’re designed in a way that we get a little dopamine boost, a little hit when we get a like or a notification.”
DeFrates said families should have phones “out of sight and out of mind.” Allison Johnsen, a manager of program development at Northwestern Medicine’s Central DuPage Hospital, agrees. She said parents can place phones in, say, a basket in the kitchen, outside of the room kids are learning in. She also notes that distractions can also come from having multiple tabs open on a computer.
“Yeah it’s a big temptation, and the brain gets used to that stimulation. So if we’re providing it, we want it even more,” Johnsen said. “So it’s like weaning yourself off the multiscreen, multitasking, looking at your phone all the time behavior.”
Doodle or listen to music
Johnsen said staring at a screen for long periods of time can be hard. It’s natural for kids’ minds to wander, even during in-person schooling. “We are normally stimulated in person, by all kinds of nonverbal cueing. Like looking around the room and noticing what people are doing. That might be distracting, but it does provide input. And so our brains love it,” Johnsen said.
Doodling, notetaking or having one headphone in for music can help students feel engaged but not passive. Johnsen said the extra stimulation may even help kids focus more.
Check in on your kid and make sure they take breaks
Johnsen recommends random, periodic check-ins to make sure kids are paying attention. If possible, parents can also have kids in the same room where they work, making sure everyone stays on task. “Checking in on them is a key on that, and then if they’re unfocused, redirecting or asking them to mute and ask what they need,” Johnsen said.
DeFrates said stepping away from all screens is also helpful. In her home, she has a corner of the room dedicated to Legos for when her kids are free. “You kind of have to have things prepared ahead of time so that kids are able to have these nonscreen activities,” DeFrates said.
Because kids are sitting in chairs for so long, Johnsen also recommends getting physical activity in. “If you sit there too long, without some physical activity, you’re going to start zoning out. Usually, kids are walking between classrooms and socializing between classes,” Johnsen said. A run around the house may keep kids awake and engaged.
Look at how they spend downtime
Outside of school, kids can still spend lots of time on their devices. For parents concerned about how often their kids are using electronic devices, DeFrates said online school probably won’t lead to technology addiction, as with video games or social media. “It’s a different kind of screen usage. It’s interactive. It’s unfortunately, a necessary part of being in school right now, but this too shall pass,” DeFrates said.
Still, Johnsen said to make sure kids know when to turn off their devices for the day. “If kids are really having a hard time putting the screens away, video gaming, then parents need to intervene hard,” Johnsen said. “If it goes into bedtime and they just can’t put it down, then that might be a time to reach out for help.”
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