How your teenager can manage distractions

Boy on phone

It’s completely normal for teens to get distracted from study from time to time, especially during stressful exam periods or when they’re struggling to understand the work. Plus, the transition to digital school work and having the internet right at our fingertips means that it’s never been easier to be distracted.

Avoiding doing work or study is a really common response to feeling overwhelmed and stressed, but while leaning into a bit of self-care to get through high-stress study periods is one thing, you don't want your teen perfecting the art of procrastination because it’ll come back to bite them during exam time.

If your teenager is struggling to balance study with school work, social media and other daily distractions, there are ways you can help them help themselves.

Set time aside for fun

After spending hours studying and working, it's to be expected that your teen might be feeling exhausted or stressed. While they may already have a study plan, encourage them to have a fun plan, too. If they have a specific time set aside for relaxing, social media or gaming, they’ll have less desire to distract themselves while working.

Take regular minibreaks

Suggest that they work in chunks of time – say, 20 minutes – then take a few minutes to get a drink, stretch and walk around. This will keep up their energy, maintain their concentration and make study feel more manageable. You might keep an eye on how they’re going by having a cup of tea and a quick chat with them during one of these scheduled mini-breaks.

Block screen alerts

If they're working on a tablet or computer that is linked to their messages or social media, encourage them to block the alerts. When they're concentrating, a message alert pinging up will distract them and break their train of thought. In their non-study time, they can go for it and catch up on social media.

Agree on 'phone free' zones

Have a conversation about areas of the house that can become temporary phone-free zones, such as where they study and where everyone eats together. Encourage the whole family to play a role in making it happen.

Create a space they can concentrate in

This is especially important if your teen has to study in a common area with plenty of distractions, like the living room or kitchen. Being around a lot of noise and activity can significantly disrupt their study routine. Creating a space that is primarily dedicated to their study hours (if possible) will help them to focus and concentrate.

If you’re unable to create a dedicated space, try to create a quiet environment where they're studying. Keep the TV turned down or off and avoid having lengthy conversations around them. If you have other kids, ask them to keep the noise down, so their sibling doesn't get distracted. Some people work best with silence, others with a hum of background noise or music. See what works for them.

Minimise interruptions

While they're studying, don't let anyone disturb them; leave it until they’re having a break. Did you know that it takes most people around 20 minutes to get back on track with study after an interruption?

Monitor their sleep

Lack of sleep makes you lose focus, so it's easier to procrastinate or get distracted when you’re tired. Here's how you can help them get better sleep. On the flipside, if your teen is studying from home, there may be a temptation to hit snooze on the alarm and lay around all day. Explain to them the importance of maintaining a routine at a time like this, including when they wake up and go to bed. They can learn more sleep routine tips here.

Eat healthy, regular meals and snacks

Being hungry causes energy levels to drop and makes it hard to concentrate, so encourage your teen to eat proper meals and healthy energy snacks such as nuts. Help them out by using these handy tips when cooking them food. Sharing a meal with your teen is a good chance to check in on how their study is going. Even a break for a quick lunch before heading back to the books gives you a chance to ask how they’re feeling and support their wellbeing.

Cut the caffeine

Encourage them to drink lots of tap water; being hydrated will help them concentrate. Long days at the desk may make them keen for coffee (and lots of it!). Remind them that too much of a good thing can be bad, and suggest alternatives: Herbal teas are an excellent calming substitute.

Exams, expectations and study loads can lead to your teenager being stressed and easily distracted. Trying even a few of these tips can help you support them to manage teenage distractions, keep calm during exam periods and study more efficiently, which reduces their overall stress and improves their wellbeing. If your teen has ADHD, it’s likely that many of these traditional distraction management methods won’t be as effective for them. Read more on how to support teens with ADHD.

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