Homework & Schoolwork

Tips For Improving Study Time During Covid-19

Delaney Ruston, MD
May 26, 2020
Man using laptop

Over the years, it has amazed me the varying degrees with which youth take to school and homework — some are just so wired to follow the path and do the work without question while others go through rough patches finding very little enjoyment in academics. These students struggle to muster up the motivation to do even the bare minimum.

It goes without saying that we, parents, love our kids so much (I've always told my kids, "I love you to the moon and back a trillion times"). It is from this place of love that we want our kids to enjoy schoolwork and enjoy learning. It can be so emotional for us when schoolwork pains our kids. My heart goes out to parents in these situations, I have been there as well. I also, of course, feel such empathy for the kids struggling — and our kids have the extra challenge of trying to resist a million "goodies" just a click away.

In the final weeks of school-at-home because of Covid-19, many youth are experiencing a complex web of feelings, and many are losing the motivation they had before all of this.

I have some suggestions for improving study habits. I must add that as parents, I know we are so eager to help, but we must remind ourselves that while we can try to help, we can only do so much. The key is that we tell our kids that we love them unconditionally, regardless of how they are doing in school and remind them that even if they are not feeling motivated now, we do not doubt that they will find things they will love to learn about in the future.

1. Explain the science of procrastination and why jumping into the hard stuff first can help

During my son's senior year in high school, he came across an online course called "Learning How to Learn'' where he discovered that the brain experiences physical pain from simply the thought of doing work it does not want to do. He told me how much that rang true for him. He learned that is why it feels relieving at the moment to distract oneself with something else — known as procrastination. But just a few minutes into the feared task, that sensation of pain dissipates. He said that learning all of this helped him get better at jumping into a hard mental task rather than avoiding it.

If your kid tends to avoid hard homework (i.e., if you have a normal kid), suggest this little experiment. Have them say on a scale of one to ten,  how much they are dreading doing it, 10 being extreme dread, and one being mild dread. Then have them do the assignment for five minutes. Then, an hour later, have them do the 1-10 scale again and see if it has gone down. Hopefully, it will be closer to one than before. If your teen does not want to do this, then you can always do the experiment about what you are dreading and share the experiment in real-time with them. With my teens, this is an approach I often do because I know how much they don't want to be pressured by me to do something, but they will engage with me about the things I am testing out on myself.

2. Empathize

Let them know you realize how hard it must be to do homework during this time when everything is essentially "homework". You understand that after hours of Zoom school, it is challenging to do repetitive or hard work. Validate that having to do homework can feel torturous at times, and now with distractions at our fingertips, there is a new, unprecedented level of challenge. If things have been really tense in your home around study time issues, this could be a great activity for you to consider doing — just to spend one or two days focused on your being more empathic. I know when I get stressed with my kids, and then I consciously switch to what I can be working on, my stress level is lowered, which in turn lowers everyone else's stress levels.

3. Help them devise a plan to fight back against their biggest “time wasters”

Talking with teens these days, over and over, they tell me that TikTok, in particular, causes them to "waste" so much time. They say how they mean to just go on for a few minutes, but then lose track of time, and suddenly  90 minutes have gone by, and they are mad. One teen noted how things are designed on the phone so that when the app is running, you literally can't see the time on the phone. She realized how this is all designed to make you lose track of time. Also, she mentioned how she has realized that the algorithm of TikTok is so amazing at delivering her content that exactly fits what she likes. For other youth, maybe it is Snapchat or Instagram that grabs their attention and keeps it there way longer than they would like.

How can we fight back? Discuss ideas such as using an app like Moment to measure time on the activity to keep track of what is happening. Another approach might be to delete the app every other day during these final school days. What ideas does your child have?

4. Ask them to reflect on their strategies for studying

Calmly ask your child to tell you about their school work strategies and habits in general. What has worked for them? What has not? Try focusing on the big picture and stop the conversation there. Try not to end by saying something like, "Well, so what are you going to get done tonight?"

5. Discuss the difference between external distractions versus internal distractions

How often do they experience external distractions, i.e., their phone pings? How often do they experience internal distractions, i.e., like sensing the need to check social media or switching to a favorite website?

6. Physical activity

Experiments have shown that after physical activity, one's ability to do academic work, particularly the ability to focus, is increased. Helping youth see this for themselves is ideal. Before having to be home due to Covid-19, had they ever noticed that they could concentrate better after recess? After dance or sports? Now at home, the family could come up with a little experiment. What if everyone had an assignment to sit and read an article on the computer for 10 minutes and then rate how easy it was to concentrate? Then the next day, everyone does a certain amount of exercises, such as 20 jumping jacks, a few pushups, and some sit ups and then repeat with a new article. Now how would you rate it?

7. Prevent late nights of studying with a tech curfew

One of the things I repeatedly heard from parents, pre-Covid-19, and of course now as well, is that when they try to have their teens unplug for the night, the teen will say they still have homework. To prevent this, psychologists recommend, and I agree, that you consider setting a "tech off time," and your kids will need to plan accordingly. They will have to adjust their entertainment/social media time on screens so that they get their schoolwork done at whatever time all of you agree on, be it 9, 10, or 11 — every home has a different situation. Will there be exceptions? Of course, that is what effective parenting is all about. Listening to our kids, and when it is finals or other issues that require them to work past the designated time, we respect and honor that. If that is a few times a month, no problem  — if it is more than that, then more discussion and problem-solving needs to happen.

8. Put the phone out of site for time periods

If they typically have a smartphone by their side while doing school work, talk about the benefits of putting it in the other room for extended periods of time, say like 20 minutes and then taking a "phone break". You can propose an experiment with them — have them keep their phone nearby and study for 15 minutes, and then have them put the phone in another room for 15 minutes and study. Then, talk about the experience. When I talk with teens about their study habits, many of them indeed tell me they do this because they know their phones really impede their concentration.

9. Experiment with a timer

This can be very effective. An old-fashioned egg timer or an hourglass timer where one sees the sand falling are both ideal. They even make sets of hourglass timers in multiple time increments. Have your child set a goal to study uninterrupted for a certain amount of time on a subject, for example, 10 minutes. A set study interval lets the brain know an end is coming. This can help increase motivation to delve into a subject.

10. Consider using tech tools to help limit tech distractions

There are many parent control apps and systems, such as Apple's Screen Time, that can limit kids' time on their phones — or systems like Circle that can turn off wifi at certain times. Something like Circle can make the tech curfew I mentioned above more automatic. Here is a link to a past TTT that provides a large list.

Ideas for conversation starters: ** Remember, I always suggest starting a conversation about tech with everyone saying something positive about tech in their lives. This lets our kids know that we "get it" that there are so many positives about screen time. This helps them be less defensive and open to conversations on tech balance topics. Also, try not to make this all about their answers, instead talk about your own challenges and solutions.

  1. What is something you particularly appreciate about screen time right now?
  2. Do you find that it is harder, easier, or the same to focus on studies during Covid-19 than before?
  3. Do you find it easier to concentrate after you have done a type of physical activity?
  4. Which screen time activities make you completely lose track of time these days?
  5. Do you feel like you are having more external or internal distractions going on these days when you try to study?

We NOW have a way for people to host online events during this time. We still strongly believe in the coming together as a group model for showing both movies, so these temporary online events will be here only while the social distancing is in place.

Click here if you are interested in hosting an ONLINE screening for your community.

Click here if you want to attend an ONLINE screening.

May 26, 2020


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Available now - Parenting in the Screen Age, from Screenagers filmmaker Delaney Ruston MD

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Find a Screening - Find a community screening close to you or watch our movies on demand

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Screenagers Podcast

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Available now - Parenting in the Screen Age, from Screenagers filmmaker Delaney Ruston MD

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Book page button

Available now - Parenting in the Screen Age, from Screenagers filmmaker Delaney Ruston MD

Order Here
Find A screening Button

Find a Screening - Find a community screening close to you or watch our movies on demand

Learn More
Screenagers Podcast

Screenagers Podcast - Join Screenagers filmmaker Delaney Ruston MD for the latest Podcast

Learn More
Book page button

Available now - Parenting in the Screen Age, from Screenagers filmmaker Delaney Ruston MD

Learn More
Host a Screening Button

Community Screenings - Learn more about hosting your own Screenagers community screening event!

Learn More
Host a Screening Button

Community Screenings - Learn more about hosting your own Screenagers community screening event!

Learn More
Find A screening Button

Find a Screening - Find a community screening close to you or watch our movies on demand

Learn More
Screenagers Podcast

Screenagers Podcast - Join Screenagers filmmaker Delaney Ruston MD for the latest Podcast

Learn More
Book page button

Available now - Parenting in the Screen Age, from Screenagers filmmaker Delaney Ruston MD

Learn More
Host a Screening Button

Community Screenings - Learn more about hosting your own Screenagers community screening event!

Learn More
Homework & Schoolwork

Tips For Improving Study Time During Covid-19

Delaney Ruston, MD
May 26, 2020
Man using laptop

Over the years, it has amazed me the varying degrees with which youth take to school and homework — some are just so wired to follow the path and do the work without question while others go through rough patches finding very little enjoyment in academics. These students struggle to muster up the motivation to do even the bare minimum.

It goes without saying that we, parents, love our kids so much (I've always told my kids, "I love you to the moon and back a trillion times"). It is from this place of love that we want our kids to enjoy schoolwork and enjoy learning. It can be so emotional for us when schoolwork pains our kids. My heart goes out to parents in these situations, I have been there as well. I also, of course, feel such empathy for the kids struggling — and our kids have the extra challenge of trying to resist a million "goodies" just a click away.

In the final weeks of school-at-home because of Covid-19, many youth are experiencing a complex web of feelings, and many are losing the motivation they had before all of this.

I have some suggestions for improving study habits. I must add that as parents, I know we are so eager to help, but we must remind ourselves that while we can try to help, we can only do so much. The key is that we tell our kids that we love them unconditionally, regardless of how they are doing in school and remind them that even if they are not feeling motivated now, we do not doubt that they will find things they will love to learn about in the future.

1. Explain the science of procrastination and why jumping into the hard stuff first can help

During my son's senior year in high school, he came across an online course called "Learning How to Learn'' where he discovered that the brain experiences physical pain from simply the thought of doing work it does not want to do. He told me how much that rang true for him. He learned that is why it feels relieving at the moment to distract oneself with something else — known as procrastination. But just a few minutes into the feared task, that sensation of pain dissipates. He said that learning all of this helped him get better at jumping into a hard mental task rather than avoiding it.

If your kid tends to avoid hard homework (i.e., if you have a normal kid), suggest this little experiment. Have them say on a scale of one to ten,  how much they are dreading doing it, 10 being extreme dread, and one being mild dread. Then have them do the assignment for five minutes. Then, an hour later, have them do the 1-10 scale again and see if it has gone down. Hopefully, it will be closer to one than before. If your teen does not want to do this, then you can always do the experiment about what you are dreading and share the experiment in real-time with them. With my teens, this is an approach I often do because I know how much they don't want to be pressured by me to do something, but they will engage with me about the things I am testing out on myself.

2. Empathize

Let them know you realize how hard it must be to do homework during this time when everything is essentially "homework". You understand that after hours of Zoom school, it is challenging to do repetitive or hard work. Validate that having to do homework can feel torturous at times, and now with distractions at our fingertips, there is a new, unprecedented level of challenge. If things have been really tense in your home around study time issues, this could be a great activity for you to consider doing — just to spend one or two days focused on your being more empathic. I know when I get stressed with my kids, and then I consciously switch to what I can be working on, my stress level is lowered, which in turn lowers everyone else's stress levels.

3. Help them devise a plan to fight back against their biggest “time wasters”

Talking with teens these days, over and over, they tell me that TikTok, in particular, causes them to "waste" so much time. They say how they mean to just go on for a few minutes, but then lose track of time, and suddenly  90 minutes have gone by, and they are mad. One teen noted how things are designed on the phone so that when the app is running, you literally can't see the time on the phone. She realized how this is all designed to make you lose track of time. Also, she mentioned how she has realized that the algorithm of TikTok is so amazing at delivering her content that exactly fits what she likes. For other youth, maybe it is Snapchat or Instagram that grabs their attention and keeps it there way longer than they would like.

How can we fight back? Discuss ideas such as using an app like Moment to measure time on the activity to keep track of what is happening. Another approach might be to delete the app every other day during these final school days. What ideas does your child have?

4. Ask them to reflect on their strategies for studying

Calmly ask your child to tell you about their school work strategies and habits in general. What has worked for them? What has not? Try focusing on the big picture and stop the conversation there. Try not to end by saying something like, "Well, so what are you going to get done tonight?"

5. Discuss the difference between external distractions versus internal distractions

How often do they experience external distractions, i.e., their phone pings? How often do they experience internal distractions, i.e., like sensing the need to check social media or switching to a favorite website?

6. Physical activity

Experiments have shown that after physical activity, one's ability to do academic work, particularly the ability to focus, is increased. Helping youth see this for themselves is ideal. Before having to be home due to Covid-19, had they ever noticed that they could concentrate better after recess? After dance or sports? Now at home, the family could come up with a little experiment. What if everyone had an assignment to sit and read an article on the computer for 10 minutes and then rate how easy it was to concentrate? Then the next day, everyone does a certain amount of exercises, such as 20 jumping jacks, a few pushups, and some sit ups and then repeat with a new article. Now how would you rate it?

7. Prevent late nights of studying with a tech curfew

One of the things I repeatedly heard from parents, pre-Covid-19, and of course now as well, is that when they try to have their teens unplug for the night, the teen will say they still have homework. To prevent this, psychologists recommend, and I agree, that you consider setting a "tech off time," and your kids will need to plan accordingly. They will have to adjust their entertainment/social media time on screens so that they get their schoolwork done at whatever time all of you agree on, be it 9, 10, or 11 — every home has a different situation. Will there be exceptions? Of course, that is what effective parenting is all about. Listening to our kids, and when it is finals or other issues that require them to work past the designated time, we respect and honor that. If that is a few times a month, no problem  — if it is more than that, then more discussion and problem-solving needs to happen.

8. Put the phone out of site for time periods

If they typically have a smartphone by their side while doing school work, talk about the benefits of putting it in the other room for extended periods of time, say like 20 minutes and then taking a "phone break". You can propose an experiment with them — have them keep their phone nearby and study for 15 minutes, and then have them put the phone in another room for 15 minutes and study. Then, talk about the experience. When I talk with teens about their study habits, many of them indeed tell me they do this because they know their phones really impede their concentration.

9. Experiment with a timer

This can be very effective. An old-fashioned egg timer or an hourglass timer where one sees the sand falling are both ideal. They even make sets of hourglass timers in multiple time increments. Have your child set a goal to study uninterrupted for a certain amount of time on a subject, for example, 10 minutes. A set study interval lets the brain know an end is coming. This can help increase motivation to delve into a subject.

10. Consider using tech tools to help limit tech distractions

There are many parent control apps and systems, such as Apple's Screen Time, that can limit kids' time on their phones — or systems like Circle that can turn off wifi at certain times. Something like Circle can make the tech curfew I mentioned above more automatic. Here is a link to a past TTT that provides a large list.

Ideas for conversation starters: ** Remember, I always suggest starting a conversation about tech with everyone saying something positive about tech in their lives. This lets our kids know that we "get it" that there are so many positives about screen time. This helps them be less defensive and open to conversations on tech balance topics. Also, try not to make this all about their answers, instead talk about your own challenges and solutions.

  1. What is something you particularly appreciate about screen time right now?
  2. Do you find that it is harder, easier, or the same to focus on studies during Covid-19 than before?
  3. Do you find it easier to concentrate after you have done a type of physical activity?
  4. Which screen time activities make you completely lose track of time these days?
  5. Do you feel like you are having more external or internal distractions going on these days when you try to study?

We NOW have a way for people to host online events during this time. We still strongly believe in the coming together as a group model for showing both movies, so these temporary online events will be here only while the social distancing is in place.

Click here if you are interested in hosting an ONLINE screening for your community.

Click here if you want to attend an ONLINE screening.

May 26, 2020


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parenting in the screen age

for more like this, DR. DELANEY RUSTON'S NEW BOOK, PARENTING IN THE SCREEN AGE, IS THE DEFINITIVE GUIDE FOR TODAY’S PARENTS. WITH INSIGHTS ON SCREEN TIME FROM RESEARCHERS, INPUT FROM KIDS & TEENS, THIS BOOK IS PACKED WITH SOLUTIONS FOR HOW TO START AND SUSTAIN PRODUCTIVE FAMILY TALKS ABOUT TECHNOLOGY AND IT’S IMPACT ON OUR MENTAL WELLBEING.  

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Parenting in the Screen Age book cover