How to help your teenager avoid distractions while studying

Image of a young man lying on his bed holding his phone above his face and smiling.

Avoiding distractions while studying for exams can seem like a hard task for teens. From phones and social media, to TV and gaming, there’s no shortage of opportunities to get sidetracked.

Just know that being easily distracted is a really common response to feeling overwhelmed and stressed. But if your teen is struggling with distractions, here are some simple things you can try out to help them manage distractions and find a little bit more study–life balance. 

Encourage regular mini breaks

Encourage your teen to work in small chunks of time (e.g. 25 minutes, as recommended by the Pomodoro technique), then take a five-minute break. The work chunk could be longer for some teens – just make sure they’re not having to concentrate for more than an hour before taking a breather.

Regular breaks help with keeping up their energy and maintaining concentration, and they make a daunting study load feel more manageable. Your teen could program their breaks using a time-setting app such as Forest, or even a simple web-based platform such as Pomodor.

It can also be motivating if they have something to look forward to during their mini breaks. Encourage them before they get started to write a list of simple things they could do during their break time. They might:

  • listen to a couple of songs

  • do a quick mindfulness exercise

  • eat a healthy snack

  • call a friend for a chat

  • have a cup of tea 

  • do some stretches

  • play with the dog.

If you’re at work and can’t be there, you could offer to do a remote check-in during some of their breaks, such as a quick text or video call to offer encouragement or to help them address any challenges they’re facing.

Set time aside for the good stuff

If your teen spends hours studying and working, it's to be expected that they might feel exhausted or stressed. That’s why it’s important that they weave fun and downtime into their study schedule. 

Check out these tips on how to create a study schedule with your teen. It will help you to see how they’re using their time and, importantly, how to schedule in some enjoyable activities – whether that’s playing sports, doing creative pursuits, hanging out with friends, watching a movie or gaming, or simply just chilling out on the couch with a book.

If your teen has specific times set aside for these fun activities, they’ll be less likely to feel the need for distractions while they’re studying. If they’re looking for tips and inspiration, you could also share this article with them on how to maintain a solid study–life balance.

Help set up a distraction-free environment

Chat with your teen about what a dedicated study space feels like to them. Ideally, it will be one that’s free from classic distractions such as TVs, gaming consoles or other devices not related to their studies. It could be:

  • a dedicated area in their bedroom, away from their bed and other distractions

  • a home office or study room, if there is one available

  • a quiet corner of the living room or kitchen

  • a local library or community study space, if your teen prefers studying outside of the home in a setting that’s conducive to focused work or where there are quiet study rooms 

  • an outdoor space such as a backyard patio, balcony or garden, which can provide a refreshing alternative to an indoor space.

If your teen studies in a common area at home, try to create a quiet environment for them. If you’re at work, this might mean enlisting the help of other family members to minimise noise and disturbances while your teen is studying.

You could also encourage your teen to wear noise-cancelling headphones, or even to listen to music that helps them to focus while they study. Music without lyrics or ‘white noise’ playlists are great options for studying. Share this article with your teen about apps they can use to help them study

Limit access to screens and block notifications

The overuse of phones, gaming, social media and TV can really impact your teen’s concentration. To help them stay focused and limit distractions while they’re studying, suggest they put away their phone at the start of each session. (An even better option is to leave it in another room during the session!)

If they're working on a tablet or a computer that’s linked to their messages or social media, suggest that they block the alerts. When they're focusing, a message alert pinging up can easily distract them and break their train of thought. If they’re having trouble disconnecting from technology, try some of these strategies to help them take a break.  

You could also check out this article on practical tips for managing your family’s screen time, which includes how to do a screen audit and set screen time rules. It’s important that you lead by example, by demonstrating a healthy relationship to screens and following the family’s rules.

Get to know their energy levels 

Studies show that people are most likely to maintain their peak focus for an average of one to two hours a day. For most people, the best time to focus is in the late morning. For a smaller percentage of the population, that focus burst might happen late at night. 

Importantly, understanding the way your teenager works best can help you to avoid lots of frustrating arguments. If nighttime is their most productive period, don’t fight it – by helping them to create a schedule that reflects their preference, you’ll be helping them get one step closer to study success.

Make a study checklist 

Ask your teen to make a checklist of everything they need to have on hand for an effective study session. Depending on the subjects they’re doing, this might include pens, pencils, rubbers, rulers, scrap paper, calculator, their computer, Post-it notes and coloured highlighters.

If they go through the checklist at the start of every study session and have everything handy, this will help them to get stuck into a focused burst of exam prep without the need to go off in search of something, which will break their concentration. 

If you can, keep an eye on how long your teen is taking to prepare for their study session. For some teens, too much planning can be a distraction in itself and they may struggle to get started. If they need inspiration to get cracking, share with them this article on motivation boosters.

Encourage healthy eating and quality sleep

Being hungry causes energy levels to drop and makes it hard to concentrate, so make sure your teen is eating proper meals and healthy snacks. Help them out by preparing meals that will boost their brain functioning

If you’re off to work for the day, leave them  nutritious meals and snacks to help fuel their study sessions. Or, if you’re at home, you could share a healthy meal with your teen and use the time to check in on how their study is going.

Getting quality sleep is crucial for your teen, and will help them to maintain focus, energy and motivation. Of course, this can be tricky when they’ve got so much on their plates. Here are some practical strategies you can try out, support options if they’re having sleep issues and some top tips from other parents.

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