Ask the Experts

Cops and Gamers: How to Police Computer Use

“How can I monitor and limit my high-school student’s gaming and social-media use when he’s supposed to be on the computer completing homework?”

Twenty-first century kids are growing up in the age of distraction. Very few teenagers do their homework without their cell phones nearby — ready and waiting for text messages, Instagram shots, and Facebook updates. Likewise, teenagers are readily distracted by video games, social media and the Internet in general while doing their homework on the computer (as are adults at work, to be fair).

Here are a few strategies that can be helpful to minimize the distractions of Minecraft, other video games, and social media when teens are doing their homework.

1) Ask them voluntarily to give up their cell phones for a set amount of time when engaged with homework. I actually learned this strategy from teens, who recognized that checking their texts and social-media feeds disrupts their focus and attention while doing homework. Once these teens recognized that it took them far longer to complete their homework with distractions, they became willing either to shut off their cell phones or to hand them to their parents. I typically suggest a 30- to 60- minute “handoff,” after which time your teen can check his phone for messages and then return to homework if necessary.

2) Keep computers and other technologies in public areas. This can make teenagers more aware of staying on task because others may see them goofing off. This approach is similar to sitting at the front of the classroom in an effort to be more focused on tasks.

[Free Download: How to Regulate Your Teen’s Devices]

3) Focus not on shutting down Minecraft, but rather on developing basic time-management skills. I encourage teenagers to read the time-management chapter from my book, Train Your Brain for Success: The Teenagers Guide To Executive Functions, and for parents to review some of our articles to learn more about time management.

4) Develop expertise with apps that help with focus and time management. Two of my favorites are “Timer Plus,” which gives a pre-set amount of time to complete a particular activity, and “30/30,” which creates categorized tasks and helps users keep track of how long they have dedicated to a particular project.