7 ways to help your teen avoid study distractions

guy lying and looking at phone

If you’re the parent or carer of a teenager facing exam time, knowing how to help them access practical ways to reduce the distractions is important. When you understand some easy ways help them stay on track, it makes a huge difference to their state of mind – and, potentially, their exam results.

Back when we were young enough to be involved in our own studies, the distractions were still there – remember television? - but today’s modern life means that there are even more things to get in your teen’s way. To make it even more complicated, the distractions tempting your teen away from their exam revision are even more invasive. But don’t worry. You can take positive action to minimise distraction and help your teenager resist the temptation of technology – and help them achieve their best possible study results.

Try these top tips to help them stay focused and develop better study habits:

1. Understand energy levels for better focus

Studies show that people are most likely to maintain their peak focus for an average of 1-2 hours a day.

Understanding energy patterns is key. For most people, the best time to focus is in the late morning. For a smaller percentage of the population, that focus burst happens best late at night. Understanding the way your teenager works best can help you avoid lots of frustrating arguments. If night-time is their most productive period, don’t fight it – by helping them create a schedule that reflects their preference, you’ll be helping them get one step closer to study success.

For great mental and physical health, breaking study into bite-sized chunks of 20-minute study blocks is recommended. Encourage your teenager to set a study goal, focus on it, then reward themselves with a mini-break and something to get their body moving, before getting stuck into another study session.

2. Brain training to ignore distractions (as easy as ABC)

To help ignore distractions, some brain training can make a big difference. The ABC technique is a proven method that many people find useful.

  • A is for awareness – the recognition of what the distraction is.

  • B stands for breathing deeply – time to slow down and think about your options.

  • C is for choice. By choosing mindfully, the distraction can be dealt with – either by responding to it in some way or dismissing it.

One positive way to encourage your teenager to train their brain is for them to use the phrase ‘be here now’, out loud, whenever they become aware that their mind is wandering. Each time distraction creeps in, the phrase can be repeated again.

It’s a form of meditation that can get great results for some people but others might find it challenging. If your teenager finds that it doesn’t work for them, don’t push it. Trying too hard to empty their mind and not feeling the results can become its own kind of stress. Best to find another way to beat distraction that does hit the mark.

3. Know the difference between work and relaxation

One of the main reasons that students are easily distracted during study time is that there is often almost no difference between the space where they do homework and the space where they relax.

If your teenager is in the habit of studying on the couch, or in bed, it might be more difficult for them to feel focused on work.

If it’s possible, set up a dedicated study space that they only use for their exam studies. It will help them have set boundaries and make it easier to avoid distractions. If you only have their bedroom to work with, look at doing a temporary refurbishment to set it up in a way that helps them stay focused on exam study. Using corkboards, or wall planners, with clear study schedules and ‘to-do’ lists they can tick off at the end of each day can help them keep their mind in work mode.

4. Limit access to mobile phones and devices

If your teenager owns a smartphone, you’ll understand how distracting it can be. By the time they get interrupted with alerts from Facebook, Snapchat, and WhatsApp, study time has been impacted badly.

At the start of each study session, they should put their phone on silent – and preferably out of sight. Encourage them to take it one step further by storing it in another room during their study session.

5. Turn off Internet access

Before study starts, turning off internet access is another smart way to minimise distractions. No more Youtube videos of kittens, or social media alerts. Consider using apps and plugins that block specific social media sites or websites to minimise distractions.

6. Headphones can help

Even if your teenager’s study environment is not particularly noisy, it’s amazing how much noise-cancelling headphones can do to reduce the audio clutter of distracting household sounds, including washing machines humming, or other family members talking. For some teenagers, though, silence can be deafening and they work better with music.

Encourage them to choose their music wisely – music with lyrics can be a huge distraction, especially if they are working on writing-related tasks. Research shows that listening to instrumental music can improve concentration, so talk about this with them in the weeks before exam preparation gets down to serious business to help them find a soundtrack that helps them tackle their studies in a positive way.

7. Everything at their fingertips

Making a checklist of everything they need on hand for an effective study session is a good starting point. Depending on the subjects they’re studying, this might include pens, pencils, rubbers, rulers, scrap paper, paperclips, post-it notes and coloured highlighters. In terms of looking after their own bodies, they should have cool, fresh water and some easy snacks to nibble on (dried fruit and nuts, or chopped fresh fruit are good options).

By going through the checklist at the start of every study session, they’ll have everything handy to help them get stuck into a focused burst of exam preparation.

Remember, every teenager is different. Some welcome tips and strategies from their parents, while others prefer to find their own way. Find the balance your teen needs to offer the right amount of help without taking over.