teenager reading
How to Help Your Teen Study.  Typically a teen bedroom during homework sessions looks like this:-

  • Television on
  • Headphones attached to iPods
  • Whilst simultaneously messaging someone on their computer screens and
  • Texting someone else on their iPhones

The teen will assure their parents that their studies are totally unaffected by the many other things they are doing at the same time.

Switching between tasks is a constant need in today’s world of information overload and yet multi-tasking – doing two cognitively complex things at the same time is actually a myth.

Chewing gum and doing virtually anything else is not multitasking because chewing gum involves no real cognitive focus.

Texting and studying do involve cognitive focus;  There are limits to how many things the human brain can focus on at any one time therefore when someone is engaged in multiple cognitively significant activities like talking and studying, the brain must constantly switch back and forth between the two tasks;  When it does, neither of those tasks are being accomplished particularly well.

The ability to focus happens chiefly in the part of the brain that allows it to concentrate on one thing and then another and to being able to switch between tasks – IT MATURES LATE IN THE ADOLESCENT BRAIN!

The question of whether today’s teens and young adults have a special skill set for learning while distracted was more formally tested in 2006 by researchers at the University of Missouri.

28 undergraduates were asked to memorize words whilst being distracted by performing a concurrent task.  Results were startling:-

  1. A 9 – 26% decline in recall ability when distracted during recall
  2. A 46 – 59% decline in recall ability when distracted during memorizing

Scientists have shown that the best way to remember what you’ve learned is to return to the place where you learned it (desk in their room).  They call this place-dependent learning.  Where and how they learn is important.

The more frequently and the more recently we learn something and then recall it or use it again, the more entrenched the knowledge.  Frequently is essential because after each repetition the brain cell will respond much more strongly to a stimulus then it initially did.  Hence, the brain circuit learns.  The more ingrained the knowledge, the easier it is to recall and use.  Ruts develop.

Memories are easier to make and last longer when acquired in teen years compared with adult years.  This is the time to:-

  • Identify strengths and invest in emerging talents – give them an opportunity to excel in something so that they can have positive beliefs about themselves.
  • It’s also the time when you can get the best results from remediation, special help, for learning and emotional issues.

How Parents Can Help

The teenage brains are learning at peak efficiency, much else is inefficient – attention, self-discipline, task completion and emotions.  The support of the parents is important because at this point the adult has abilities that the child doesn’t.

  • When your children come home from school, make them clean out their book bag in front of you and organize their homework assignments, and then ask them which they need to do first.  Your teenagers may do this kicking and screaming, but if you make it a priority, no TV, no computer time, no snack until certain things are done then you’ll increase your chances of success.
  • If an assignment includes something creative, suggest it be done first because it involves more complex cognitive skills and more focus.
  • Encourage your adolescents to make lists – such as what they need to take home from school in the afternoon in order to do homework, or what they need to accomplish before going to bed.  Try to get them into the habit of crossing these things off a list too as they are achieved.
  • Go through textbooks – write out questions and answers elsewhere.  They learn that they actually have to do the work – sit down and do it, in order to learn.
  • Offer to proofread assignments and spell-check their essays.
  • Take the computer and TV out of the bedroom.  The bright LED light of a computer screen needs to be turned off about an hour before bedtime to relax the over-stimulated eyes and brain.
  • Stay involved even if you don’t have expert knowledge in the subjects.
  • Ensure that they are sitting in a comfortable desk chair.
  • Check on them over the course of the evening, but try not to do it judgmentally.  Stress will impair learning!
  • Don’t ridicule, judge, be disapproving or dismissive.  They are often all over the place, forgetting to bring books home, crumpling important notes in the bottom of their backpacks, misconstruing homework assignments.  Rather reinforce structure.
  • Ensure that they get sufficient sleep.  Lack of sleep impacts on concentration, motions, behaviour and memory.
  • Pay attention to nutrition – high sugar, artificial colouring (fizzy drinks, sweets) have an impact on sleep, concentration and therefore performance.
  • If your teenager is struggling with low grades and organizational issues and is progressively falling behind, it is your job to step in to offer help and brainstorm why these things are happening.  It is important for parents to keep in close communication with the school.  Teens need to learn to take responsibility for their homework, for sleep habits, and for the distractions that keep them from studying.  With gentle nudges at school and at home and assistance they will not only become more disciplined about how and when and where they study but also become more confident.

If your child needs specific assistance to concentrate or suffers exam anxiety I can assist with hypnosis, meditation and neuro-linguistic programming. Call me today on 082 929 5142 to schedule an appointment in either Edenvale or Sandton.

Read my article to learn more about how the teenage brain differs from the child or adult brain and to understand why teens do the things they do.

Source “The Teenage Brain: A Neuroscientist’s survival guide to raising adolescents” by Frances E. Jensen

Resources: By Parents for Parents http://byparents-forparents.com – includes articles, a blog, a parenting forum, and links to information on everything from weight loss camps and ADHD to bullying and divorce.

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