Do you sometimes think that your teen has the attention span of a fruit fly?! You’re not alone!
Struggling to concentrate while studying is a big problem for a LOT of teens. And unfortunately, over the last 10 years things have only gotten worse thanks to smart phones, the Internet, and of course — and no doubt your least favorite phenomenon — social media. It has never been harder for teens to concentrate and easier for them to procrastinate than it is right now.
And if your teen has issues concentrating then studying is an uphill battle. They’re going to have a hard time taking in and retaining information if they can’t focus for more than a few minutes!
So what can you do to help?
Phone time out
First of all — and no this isn’t original but we can’t not say it — the smart phone needs to be put away.
We’re not saying confiscate it (but maybe you’ll have to?), but you can start out by suggesting to your teen ways they can limit their phone use while they’re studying. The most effective solution is to put it out of reach — get it out of sight and out of mind (perhaps in a drawer turned off, or even better in another room).
However, you may come up against a major protest unless your teen knows their phone isn’t going away forever. To ease them into their phone separation, they could start with no phone for an hour and see how that goes. And if they’re worried that the world will “LITERALLY” end if they’re detached from their phone for too long, you can suggest that they tell their friends beforehand, hey — I’m about to study so am putting my phone away for a few hours. This way your teen doesn’t need to worry that people will think they’ve fallen off the face of the Earth when they don’t reply within 5 minutes.
This might seem all a bit silly, but knowing how addicted some teens are to their screens, we’re afraid this is just the reality we’re dealing with now!
A study goal to work towards
When your teen sits down at their desk to study, in order to maintain focus and actually achieve something, they need to have a goal to work towards.
If they sit down at their desk without any plan of what they’re going to study, this is a recipe for having no motivation and becoming distracted quickly and easily.
Their goal for a study session might be:
- completing a practice exam
- working through 10 math problems
- deciding on the structure of an essay (what each paragraph is going to be about
- revising and writing out their notes for one topic they’ve gone through in class
The goal can be incredibly simple. All your teen needs is something to work towards; a plan.
Without a goal or a plan the risk is that they sit down at their desk, already feel like they don’t know what to do, and become unmotivated and disheartened before they’ve even started. After all, starting a study session is often the hardest part, so by giving your teen a FOCUS for their study session, you’re giving them the momentum they’ll need to concentrate long enough to actually do some effective study.
Encourage study techniques that engage your teen
Studying is unlikely to ever be your teen’s most favorite pastime, but this doesn’t mean it always needs to be a huge chore that they dread doing.
What your teen needs to do is to find those study techniques that capture their attention for longer periods of time. This might be using flash cards, watching a video that explains one of their topics, writing study notes, drawing diagrams.
If your teen thinks that studying means reading through their notes for hours on end, well then it’s no wonder that they can’t concentrate. We would all have a hard time maintaining concentration reading text book for hours on end. But — interspersing reading with writing, drawing, watching, creating, makes studying a much more engaging process, and one that’s MUCH easier to maintain concentration throughout.
Studying in ‘chunks’ of time
Good studiers know what their most effective window of concentration is. They know how long they can effectively take in, process, and retain information for, before their brain starts to run out of puff.
Some say that the optimal time period of concentration is 25 minutes. This Pomodoro Technique might prove to be highly effective for your teen, but they might also find that once they’re on a roll they can really sink their teeth into studying for more than 25 minutes.
For me it depended on what I was doing while studying that determined how long I could study effectively for before losing concentration. When attempting practice exams, if the exam was close I would set a timer and attempt the exam in the same amount of time I would have in the real exam (sometimes 3 hours!). Other times, and particularly if it was for a subject or topic that I didn’t enjoy so much, I would only be able to concentrate for up to an hour before needing a break.
Your teen’s task is to figure out what their optimal concentration window is. Like me, it might depend on what they’re studying. It can also depend on their mood, stress levels, and how much sleep they’ve had.
Therefore, the MOST IMPORTANT thing is for your teen to learn to recognize when they’re losing concentration. At this time, they’ll be much better off taking a short break, recharging their batteries, and returning to their study once they’re feeling fresh again.
As always this is a learnt skill
As with any part of studying, improving one’s concentration is a learnt skill.
If your teen is really struggling to concentrate right now, the key for them will be to build up their capacity to concentrate over time. If they can’t sit still at their desk for more than 15 minutes now, expecting them to study all day without a complaint is setting an unrealistic expectation.
Any improvement in their concentration levels is an improvement that should be celebrated! Everyone’s study skills should always be a work in progress, and your teen’s concentration skills are no different.
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