by Amanda Vogel
In today’s digital age, we are all constantly faced with technological distractions, such as Facebook, YouTube, and text messages from friends. These distractions are a big challenge, especially when students are trying to focus on homework, but they’re not going anywhere and are only proliferating. Learning to manage these distractions so we can get our work done is an important life skill!
How do you address the problem of technological distractions? On the one hand, you can take a restrictive approach and not allow any Internet access during homework time. On the other hand, you can take a permissive approach and allow your child to find his or her own way, learning to handle distractions as they become problematic.
Both of these options have their drawbacks. The permissive approach results in the loss of too much valuable homework time, or homework that is poorly completed. The overly restrictive boundaries don’t teach kids the long-term skills needed to manage distractions. After all, once they reach college and the job world there will be no one looking over their shoulder, reminding them to turn off Facebook until their work is done.
Let’s look behind door number three for a better solution. We recommend that the Internet and other media distractions become a common topic during regular family meetings. In the context of a family meeting, children are given some overall clear boundaries, or “non-negotiables,” but they are also brought into the ongoing conversation about what is working and what is not. Their opinions are valued, they are allowed to make some mistakes, and they are given the option to make choices within realistic limits. If your child is included in coming up with a solution, he or she will then be invested in the problem-solving process. Instead of parent vs. child, you’ve changed the dynamic – you are now on the same team, working together to solve a problem.
Here’s how a productive, solutions-oriented family discussion about managing distractions might proceed.
Bring up the problem and how you feel about it
Family meetings are wonderful opportunities to bring up issues in your household. In a family meeting, mom brings up the problem she’d like to focus on today. Mom is worried that the Internet, Facebook, and texting are taking too much time and focus away from homework. Mom feels anxious about this because she’s not sure how much of a problem this is, but she knows it’s definitely become too invasive to be a good thing.
Decide the non-negotiable
Before turning over the discussion to the family, mom sets clear boundaries: Homework must be complete. Homework must also be done well and show evidence that each child is continually striving to do his or her best.
Open the discussion to solutions
Instead of asking your children to defend themselves or how they feel, move the discussion straight into the solution phase. In this phase, all possible solutions should be heard and written down. Encourage everybody in the meeting to propose ideas. Kids will propose an amazing variety of solutions, from punitive measures (I should lose internet privileges if I get a low grade) to incentive measures (I should be able to give myself Facebook time after each hour of work), from restrictive measures (I should have to turn off my cell phone while working) to creative measures (I should only go on the internet after my first three subjects are done).
Eliminate the options that you are not comfortable with
As a parent, it’s never fair to keep an option on the table that you can’t live with. You have to cross those off of the list and explain your reasoning.
Allow your child to choose
From the remaining options, have your child choose the solution that he or she wants to try out for the next week. The solution may not be perfect, and it may not work well at all, but it’s important to really allow choice. No matter what happens, it’s okay, because you’re going to keep working on the problem until an effective solution is found.
Return to the discussion regularly
Once your child chooses the solution, the problem needs to stay on “project status.” This means that in each weekly meeting, you openly discuss how things are working and whether any changes need to be made. Your child should continue to be part of the discussion. Sometimes you’ll need to make small adjustments, other times you’ll have to go back to the drawing board. It’s really important that your child knows you are in it for the long haul and that you trust him or her to put forth effort to improve until you find a solution that works.
Through this process, you have taken the lead role and provided choice within limits. You have given your child ownership of the problem but let him or her know that you will continue to be there with support and ideas. You have also modeled a problem solving process that will continue to be critical throughout the adult years. For more information about family meetings, check out the book Positive Discipline by Jane Nelsen – it’s one of our favorite resources!