Dear Teen Parenting Coach

Q: How Can My Teen Avoid Distractions While Working Online?

Almost no one is immune to the attention-grabbing time suck that is the Internet. And yet most of us need to use it daily for school or work. Learning computer time management as a teenager with ADHD comes with extra challenges, but the payoff is just as huge.

Q: “My son needs help learning to use his computer as a homework tool only, when so many games and social media are at his fingertips on the same Internet that’s required for his assignments. How can he manage this without me constantly hovering over his shoulder?” — MinnesotaMultitasker

Hi MinnesotaMultitasker:

Your question is among the most frequently asked questions I get from parents. They complain to me that their teens spend countless hours on social media or playing games when they should be working on their homework. My response is a simple and straightforward one.

As your teen’s parent, you have the right to know what he’s doing with his digital devices and when, and to control what he can see and use. Introducing clear and specific controls, rules, and consequences on screen usage is your responsibility — and it’s your child’s job to negotiate it.

Your first step on that path is to talk to your son — not in an accusatory, lecturing manner, but in a real, two-sided discussion about the challenges of focusing on what needs to be done while acknowledging the pull of the web. Are you sure he’s really “wasting” time? How is his computer time affecting his academics? Is he getting his work done? Are his grades dropping? Are assignments that should take him two hours actually taking five? Even asking him what he’s doing to ignore distractions may start a dialogue that produces some good strategies.

[Read This Next: An Ethics Manual for Your Teen’s Digital Devices]

Secondly, where is your son doing his homework? If he’s been working in his bedroom, I would suggest you move the computer to a common space to discourage playing games or surfing the Internet. If he resists working in the open for all to see, purchase an inexpensive trifold presentation board that he can place on the table to give him some privacy but still allow you to monitor him from time to time.

It’s difficult to have a conversation about computer usage and teens without talking about parental controls. If you feel that your son seriously lacks the self-control to monitor his own tech usage, but you prefer to be “hands-off,” there are dozens of homework apps and settings that can be installed directly on his computer that allow you to set time periods when he’ll have no access to the Internet or when certain websites will be blocked. He might need the Internet for homework, but he likely doesn’t need Instagram or YouTube at the same time.

That said, I’m not the biggest fan of parental controls, as they may rob teens of the opportunity to practice an important life skill. The Internet, social media, and our online world are only going to get more prevalent and pervasive as time goes on. And we all, not just teens, need to figure out strategies and systems to manage their pull. Learning time management and decision-making regarding technology now will be crucial for your son’s future success.

For more tips and tools for managing screen time, please check out ADDitude’s free webinar on screen usage.

Do you have a question for ADDitude’s Dear Teen Parenting Coach? Submit your question or challenge here.

The opinions and suggestions presented above are intended for your general knowledge only and are not a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease without consulting with a qualified healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your own or your child’s condition.