What to Do When Your Child’s Homework Requires Internet Access

Tricks for helping your child minimize digital distractions


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Many parents often wonder how to manage their child’s computer use and homework time. With student assignments increasingly requiring the internet, parents are left wondering how to ensure their children aren’t texting friends or playing games, instead of solving math problems or writing research papers.

This is no surprise. A 2015 study conducted by the Hispanic Heritage Foundation, the Family Online Safety Institute and myCollegeOptions.org found that 98.5 percent of American high school students (across all racial/ethnic backgrounds) use the internet daily for assignments. And according to a study from Teen Research Unlimited conducted for the Verizon Foundation, students are using more than just a computer, perhaps out of necessity.

  • 42 percent of sixth-graders reported using a smartphone to complete their homework.
  • 39 percent of seventh-graders reported using one.
  • 57 percent of eighth-graders reported using one.

Set up your child for success at home with helpful homework routines and guidelines. Be aware of what she can do on her computer that you may think she can only do on her phone. And, depending on your child’s age, consider having a conversation with her teacher.


Create a Homework Routine With Your Child

Start by choosing a place in the house where homework is always done. This will vary by child. Some will work best in a quiet area that’s free of distractions — digital and otherwise. Another child may work best in the dining room or family room — somewhere people are coming and going. Be sure to set a homework schedule that includes a break time.

Create a space that is free of technology, too. Students still have some old-fashioned homework assignments to complete, for which only pen and paper are necessary — or maybe even just a book.


Put Limits on Incoming and Outgoing Texts

Group texting is one of the most popular ways teens stay in touch. That “ding” is, as you may have experienced, is hard to ignore. Help your child minimize digital distractions when doing homework using one of these tricks.

  • Disable your child’s phone during the agreed-upon homework time using an app like Circle With Disney.
  • Turn off iMessage on Apple devices so your child won’t receive texts while doing homework. Kids can send and receive texts using the iMessage app on a Mac (computer), so turn that off, too.
  • Use Find My iPhone (Apple) or Find My Phone (Android) to lock your child’s cell phone during homework time. It’s meant to be a safety feature in case you lose your device, but it works for homework time, too.
  • If your child uses an iPhone, turn on the “Do Not Disturb While Driving” feature. You can choose to enable the setting manually (not just while driving), and customize an automatic outgoing message that politely lets friends know your child is busy.

Recognize the Benefits of a Home Computer

A study done by the National Bureau of Economic Research between 2008 and 2010 found that although having a computer at home often means kids spend more time playing video games and using social media, their grades are not affected. Or, as was reported in The Washington Post, having a home computer did not have “a measurable effect.”

In fact, according to the study, kids with computers at home with access to the internet were helped “in an unexpected way. It made them more social — not just online, but in real life.”

Helping your child use a computer to complete homework starts with setting up a homework space and time, and then choosing settings and restrictions. But what you’re really teaching is a life skill: How to focus. And that’s what’s most important, whether there’s a device in front of your child or not.


Laura Tierney, a digital native who got her first phone at age 13, is founder and president of The Social Institute, which offers students positive ways to handle one of the biggest drivers of their social development: social media. She also recently became a mom. Learn more at thesocialinstitute.com.

 

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