Ask the Experts

Q: Does the TV Really Help My Son Focus on Homework?

It’s true that the ADHD brain sometimes needs background noise in order to focus on a boring task. But does your child really need the TV or music on in order to complete a homework assignment? The answer might be Yes.

Q: “My son insists TV helps him focus when he’s trying to complete a ‘boring’ homework task such as copying a map. I tell him no TV during homework because it is a distraction. He gets angry at me and says I don’t understand how his brain works and blames me when he can’t focus and get his work done. Any thoughts?” —AntiTVParent

Hi AntiTVParent:

I love that you asked this question! It’s a common one with not a simple answer. It’s not always easy to identify the right course of action for your child. But, in your case, your son is telling you (and very clearly, it seems) what he needs to complete those “boring” tasks. So since you didn’t mention if your son is actually able to complete them when the television is on, my short answer is: You need to allow him to try. Perhaps you can experiment with him: Do one day’s homework with TV and the next day’s without, and see if there is a difference.

Many of my student clients find it very helpful to have the television on in the background for them to complete busywork. It keeps them focused and on task. And if we’re being really honest, it makes the boring less boring. Especially for the ADHD brain. However, for the kind of work that requires real brainpower, I would say no television.

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Many of my students who find homework to be anxiety producing say that having the television on has a soothing, stress-relieving effect for them.  And, interestingly enough, they can put on the television and not touch the channel — but when listening to music, they are constantly changing songs.

And speaking of music, my all-time favorite tip for students is to create 30-minute playlists to listen to while they work. So if your son needs background noise, perhaps you can introduce this technique. He creates a playlist of music he knows well and listens to it every time he sits down to do math, for example. The consistency of hearing the same songs over and over again will help his brain activate and stay focused.

So my advice to you is this: Say yes to music if he needs it to stay focused and yes to background television ONLY if he is using it for “simple tasks” — and completes them.

Good Luck!

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