If Our Kids Are More Distracted Than Ever, How Can We As Parents Help?

More than half of American students consistently do homework using some sort of technology such as a laptop or smartphone.  Sometimes they are using these tools to complete their work, but often times, these gadgets are merely a distraction and cause homework to take even longer.  In my last blog, I mentioned the myth of multi-tasking.  In reality, there is no such thing.  The brain is actually task switching because it cannot accurately focus on more than one thing at once.  If Facebook, surfing the internet, trying out the newest apps and texting are getting in the way of your child’s productivity, there’s help.

Studies show that when students are more aware of how they study best, they have higher GPAs.  When they are able to craft an environment that is comfortable for them, they can become much more efficient at their school work. This ideal study environment will be different for every student, but here are some questions that can help make your child more self aware and give you an idea of how much technology should be involved.  Have your kids ask themselves:

  • In what environment do I get the most work done?
  • Where do I tend to focus best?
  • What time of the day am I most productive?
  • How do I best eliminate distractions?
  • What kind of music can I listen to while studying? (By the way, research has shown that music with lyrics makes it harder to focus, but if it’s a song that your student listens to all the time, their brain will be used to blocking it off and it may actually help with studying.)

Research also shows that when students take breaks from technology, they can improve their focus. There are lots of activities that can relax a student’s mind and improve cognitive processes.  These include:

  • Exercising (playing a sport, taking a walk, or yoga)
  • Playing a musical instrument
  • Looking at beautiful art work
  • Listening to music

All of these activities have been shown to relieve stress and enhance study time. 9VZPKXCBHAZQ

But sometimes, even the most diligent students don’t want to hear how they can use technology wisely when the ideas are coming from their parents.  As a parent of a 14 year old, I’m very well aware of this!

This summer, we’re rolling out our new educational coaching program.  It’s a ten-session, in-home tutoring program designed to help students tackle ways they work best.  We’re also incorporating other strategies for reading comprehension (how to focus and retain when the text isn’t too exciting), note-taking, organization, time management and goal setting.  In addition, we’re offering this unique study skills program to rising middle and high school students in a group setting in Vienna, VA.  Let me know if you have any questions about this blog or our summer classes.

Ann Dolin, M.Ed. [email protected]

President ~ EC Tutoring

iGeneration Learning: What’s Going on In Our Kids’ Brains?

I was lucky enough to attend two of Dr. Rosen’s sessions at the Learning and the Brain Conference this weekend.   In addition to presenting his own research, he also summarized other recent studies.  Here are the questions, answers, and other tidbits I found interesting:

  • Why are “screens” so appealing to humans? And when it comes to reading, what is the neurological reason our kids prefer to search Google than read a book? Dr. Gary Small of UCLA conducted fascinating research studying students’ fMRIs when they were asked to do two separate things: read a hard copy book and search the internet using Google. He found that kids’ brains almost fully lit up (almost all areas were stimulated) when they used Google, but that only a very small portion was activated when reading a book. The internet produces a hyperactivity of the brain; it makes people more engaged and stimulated.
  • The more friends you have on Facebook, the more gray matter (associated with memory) in your brain. Also, those with a large amount of friends were more likely to have a larger amygdala (part of the brain associated with emotion). Here’s a good visual of brain maturation. Although association doesn’t mean causation, most here at the conference believe there is a causative affect.
  • Children who play violent video games have less activity in their brains that regulate emotion and aggression. The effects can last for a week after last playing a game.
  • Furthermore, people who are addicted to video games have disrupted brain connections in the areas of emotion, decision-making, and attention.

When it comes to attention, a recent study by Rosen looking at the habits of 279 middle, high school, and college students found the following when the students were observed studying for 15 minutes:

  • All groups could only attend to the task for 3-5 minutes before losing focus. They were able to refocus at about 6 minutes, but then were highly distracted between 8-10 minutes. They became highly focused at approximately 14 minutes, probably because they realized they had just a short time left before the time was up.
  • The most interesting finding was that the number of windows the student had open, the more off task they were.
  • Off-task behavior was highly correlated with lower grade point average (GPA). On-task behavior was correlated with higher GPAs.

In a nutshell, Rosen found that the following factors in the study predicted good school performance:

  • How much time the student spent on task.
  • If the student had strategies for studying (more on this in my next post).

And the following factors predicted poor school performance:

  • Switched from task to task often (multi-tasking).
  • High amount of daily media consumption.
  • And most amazingly, whether the student checked Facebook just ONCE during the 15 minutes. This is the factor that was most correlated with lower GPA.

The question isn’t whether technology is good or bad, it’s about how kids can use it wisely. Part of that includes something called “meta-cognition” which is a fancy way of saying “thinking about thinking”. In order for students to regulate their own online habits they must know how they learn and pay attention best. More on the latest on meta-cognition in my next post.


Questions or comments? Please post them below!

Ann Dolin, M.Ed. — President — EC Tutoring


Can Skype Help with Studying?

Just the other day, my fourteen year old son, Will, announced that he was going to Skype (is this word now a verb?) with his friend Kelly in order to study for an upcoming test.  I was instantly skeptical.  After all, it’s unlikely that any real studying can involve social media…right?  I was wrong.

That evening I decided to walk ever so slowly by Will’s room to see if he was really studying or merely chatting with his friend.  I was surprised to hear that they were quizzing each other for an upcoming test based on a study guide they were reviewing together.  I heard questions like, “Do you think she’s going to ask about the causes of the revolution on the test?  How did you create your venn diagram showing cause and effect?  This is how I did mine (holding up paper).”

So, in the end, I do think Skype is the way to go for many of our tech-savvy kids.  Here are some things to think about:

  • Research shows that students remember far more of what they discuss than what they read or hear.   Small study groups are ideal, but when that’s not possible, consider Skype.
  • Be sure your child has guidelines so that the time spent studying doesn’t turn into social hour.  Kids should establish with their peer how long the study session will last and what they need to accomplish.  All worksheets and study guides should be emailed ahead of time.
  • Skype can help your child with a sense of accountability.  Some students just can’t muster enough energy to study alone, but they often can when they have an established study session with a friend.

And your tween or teen will surely be impressed when you encourage Skype as a study tool!

Ann Dolin, M.Ed.
President – Educational Connections, Inc.

Place Praise on Kids’ Effort

Ann was recently featured in a “Parent to Parent” article by Betsy Flagler of The Buffalo News. We’ve posted the article below – let us know your thoughts!

Some kids expect kudos every time they turn around. But general praise for their brains, beauty or brawn can backfire. Instead, get specific about your child’s effort.

Use praise that hones in on how well your child perseveres, suggests Ann K. Dolin, a former teacher and president of a tutoring company based in Virginia. When words are too general, children discount their parents’ good intentions as insincere.

Praising children for effort rather than intelligence gives them more motivation to keep trying, says Dolin, author of “Homework Made Simple” (Advantage Books, 2010). Her suggestions include:

• Replace “great job” with, “I like the way you kept trying even when the problems became harder.”

• Replace “I’m proud of you” with, “You went back to check your work. That extra step paid off.”

• Replace “You got an A” with, “Those extra practice problems you did really made a difference.”

Studies at Columbia University have shown that kids praised for being talented don’t fare as well as kids who are praised for being hard workers. Students praised only for their intelligence and natural strengths can eventually lose confidence in their abilities.

Here are some suggestions from Mary Jo Rapini, counselor and coauthor of “Start Talking: A Girl’s Guide for You and Your Mom About Health, Sex or Whatever” (Bayou Publishing, 2008), about how to get beyond “good job.”

• Be careful praising your child for what comes naturally. If you dole out praise for high math grades that come easily, your child may be less willing to try more difficult challenges.

• Be careful praising your child for what he already loves to do. This can lead to a kid thinking he has to be passionate about something in order to be good at it.

• Using comparisons will backfire. Telling your child that she is better, stronger or more attractive than someone else fosters a competitive, win-or-lose mindset. Teaching your children to understand others and be polite is more highly correlated to their future happiness and success than promoting competition.

• Praising your child’s attractiveness should be done with caution. Encouragement and modest praise when your child is frustrated while learning a skill, for example, will help build your child’s selfesteem much more than telling her how pretty she is.

• When praising, keep in mind the child’s age and developmental level. A toddler will need encouragement more often, but a teenager may feel manipulated by your comments.

There are also pitfalls when it comes to praising children’s artwork, according to the North Carolina State University Extension Service. Well-intentioned comments such as “that’s a beautiful house” can lead to these common misunderstandings:

• Children may expect praise every time they create something.

• Children may stop forming their own opinions of their artwork and look to their teachers for feedback.

• Children may stop being creative and start creating what they think their teachers will like.

The best way to give children feedback is to praise their effort using descriptions instead of applauding the product they actually created. Help children recognize how hard they worked—at mixing colors of paint, gluing down leaves, cutting out strips of paper—and encourage them to be proud of their own accomplishments without seeking an adult nod of approval.

Ask the Expert: ADHD and Homework Struggles

Ann Dolin was recently featured in the “Ask the Expert” section of Attention Magazine. Find answers to questions like: How do you help procrastinators? What if the student says studying is boring? Do video games help or hurt in the long run?

We’ve posted the article on our website here:

Ask the Expert: ADHD and Homework Struggles

Let us know what you think, we’d love to hear your feedback!

My Teen Won’t Read — Is It Worth the Power Struggle?

Getting any child to read can be a challenge, but trying to encourage a teenager to read is even more of an undertaking. While the benefits of reading include an increased vocabulary, better grades, and higher SAT scores, the struggle may not be worth it if the parent/child relationship is impacted. Good news – there are many things to make the environment ripe for reading without pushing your child (or yourself) over the edge.


Buy a Kindle or Nook

One of the best investments you can make is the purchase of an e-reader. Teens love electronics and are much more likely to flip the switch on their e-book than to pick up a paperback. Moreover, once they finish with one book, the next book is at the tip of their fingers in the e-reader storefront. There, kids can also order audible books which allow them to listen as they follow along with the text.


Select a Series

Even the most reluctant readers will latch on to a series that is relatable and fun to follow. Many girls enjoy the Missing Persons series by E.B. Rabb about high school sisters who run away from their New York home to escape their evil stepmother. The girls change their names, color their hair, and take up a new hobby–solving missing person’s cases. The first book, as well as the rest of the series, can be found on Amazon.com.


Loved a Movie? Read the Book

One book and movie sure to inspire is Soul Surfer, the story of teen surfer Bethany Hamilton. This memoir follows her incredible journey from the day she comes face-to-face with a 14-foot tiger shark to her awe-inspiring recovery and return to surfing. Watch the movie first or read the book; it doesn’t matter, as long as your teen is engaged in reading.


Get a Driver’s Manual

Most teenagers look forward to driving, but they have to study in order to pass the written exam. Purchase a driver’s manual for your teen to read with you or independently. Reading is reading, in any form!
Turn Off Everything Else with a Screen
Carve out time each evening for reading. Everyone should put down cell phones, turn off the television, iPod Touch, and any anything else that draws attention, except the e-reader, of course! Even 15 or 20 minutes before bedtime is enough time to instill the love of reading.


Relax and Read without Criticizing

During this time, do one of two things: either read silently on your own as a role model or read aloud with your child. Your teen is not too old to read with you. Try not to correct your child’s mistakes or ask too many questions. As soon as kids feel pressured or judged, they’re less willing to read. When your teen begins to associate reading with evening relaxation, he’ll be more likely to read independently and for pleasure later on.


Ann K. Dolin, M.Ed., is the founder of Educational Connections Tutoring in Fairfax and Bethesda. Her award-winning book, Homework Made Simple: Tips, Tools and Solutions for Stress-Free Homework, she offers proven solutions to help make homework less of a chore for the whole family. Learn more at ectutoring.com.

Our 5 Most Popular Articles and 2 Most Viewed Videos of 2011

Some topics really seem to strike a chord with parents. These articles appeared in past newsletters and received a big response from our readers.

  • 5 Homework Tips Every Parent Must Know
  • Have a Math Test? 6 Proven Solutions to Study Smarter
  • Parenting Styles and Why They Matter
  • Get Organized with the Latest Smart Phone Apps
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Read these articles and view our top two 90-second videos:

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