Disorganized and Distracted: 6 Tips to Help Your Teen Tackle Homework with Confidence

by Nancy Reynolds

This Post: Disorganized and Distracted: 6 Tips to Help Your Teen Tackle Homework

My son walked in the door after school grumbling and agonizing about how much homework he had.

“I swear, my Pre-Cal teacher gave us at least two hours of homework, and then I have that U.S. History project I have to finish, not to mention the paper I have to write for English Lit. I’m never going to get it all done! NEVERRR!”

Trying to comfort him I said, “Listen, I know it won’t be easy, but I have faith in you. Just do your best to stay focused and pace yourself. You might be surprised how much you can get done.”

Throughout the next couple of hours, I watched my son make three trips to the refrigerator, two trips to the pantry (with plenty of moaning that “there’s never anything good to eat in the house”), and answer three phone calls from friends. And, somewhere in between all of that, I heard him scrolling through TikTok videos.

I get it. Teenagers today don’t have it easy. They’re expected to go to school for seven hours straight, and then, in many cases, go to practice, a club or a job and then come home and hit the books for another three or four hours. By the time they sit down to do homework, they’re spent, which only adds to their desire to break free from all.

Rather than watching my son agonize over his homework, I sat down with him and helped him learn how to become more productive and focused and a whole lot less distracted. 

If your middle or high schooler is struggling with homework, disorganization, and battling constant distractions, here are a few tips to help your teen tackle homework, and get and stay more productive and focused.

Disorganized and Distracted: 6 Tips to Help Your Teen Tackle Homework


#1 Start by Designating a Functional Study Area

It’s hard to stay focused and organized when you’re surrounded by clutter, piles of clothes strewn everywhere or you have to sit in a chair that’s uncomfortable or deal with constant distractions. Where your teen does homework actually sets the tone for their productivity.

Whether it’s a quiet nook somewhere in the house or you carve out an area in your teen’s bedroom, create a functional study area that’s away from distractions, has good lighting and a comfortable chair. Get your teen involved by letting them choose the desk, chair or a few cool organization accessories. The more “onboard” your teen is, the greater chance there will be that they’ll take ownership of the space and actually look forward to doing their homework there. If you’re looking for a few cool study station ideas, check these out.

#2 Use Tools to Help Them Get and Stay Organized

Many teens start out the school year organized, but by mid-year, they’re struggling to keep up with papers, assignments and due dates. The trick is to help your teen get organized and then put the proper tools in place so they stay organized.

 ~ Invest in a Good Planner

A lot of middle and high schools are now offering students free planners at the beginning of each year. If your child’s school doesn’t, it’s a great idea to invest in a good one. A planner allows your child to jot down homework assignments for each class as they’re given by teachers, highlight important tests or projects and add other important obligations like sports, clubs or family events.

~ Use a Master Calendar

A large wall calendar (like this one) hanging over their desk or study area can complement your teen’s planner and help them map out all their assignments and tests so they can see it all in one place and never miss a deadline. (There are also plenty of online calendars, too, that allow you to put in assignments, set reminders for important due dates and deadlines and even color-code reminders so they can prioritize more easily. Check out these calendar apps.)

~ Organize By Class

Every teacher has his/her own style. Some pass out tons of papers; others keep everything pretty much online. Have your teen take a hard look at each class and help them organize each class in a way that makes it easy for them. For some classes, it might be a 2-inch binder with tabs; for others, it might be a simple folder where they can tuck in a few notes from class.

~ Create a Daily To-Do List

Keeping track of homework assignments, tests, projects, club times, sports/games, job schedules, and things mom wants you to do when you get home can be really overwhelming for teenagers. Creating a daily to-do list will help them prioritize their day and help them focus on what needs to be done that day rather than getting overwhelmed. (A lot of planners have “daily to-do” sections which make it easy to keep everything in one convenient place.)

#3 Good Note-Taking = Improved Comprehension & Retention

I can’t tell you how many times my kids had trouble studying for a test because they took crummy notes or didn’t take notes at all while the teacher was reviewing a lesson. Taking good notes in class is critical to your teen’s success. In fact, studies have proven that taking good notes in class can improve active listening, comprehension, and retention.

Taking notes by hand is preferable since studies have shown it helps you process information better, but there are also plenty of apps and digital systems to help them take notes and keep them organized. Here are some of the best note-taking apps.  

#4 Use a Distraction Blocking App

The internet is where a lot of our teen’s homework happens, but in the midst of that distractions are always just a click away. And, considering social networks are specifically designed to be as addictive as possible, it’s no wonder our kids have difficulty staying focused.

That’s where a distraction blocking app can help. These apps can actually help our kids build discipline. When they turn them on, they can’t open anything distracting – they simply won’t work. Here are the best apps to help your teen focus and avoid distractions.

#5 Do a Weekly Backpack Purge

My kids’ backpacks were a catch-all for everything from random announcements from school and leftover sandwiches to homework assignments and notes from friends passed to each other in class. By the end of each week, it looked like a bomb went off in there.

Help your teen stay organized by purging everything unnecessary (and things that are growing mold) from their backpack every single week. An uncluttered, organized backpack will make it easier for them to stay and feel more organized.

#6 Track Study Time

How many times have you heard your teen agonize and complain about an assignment or project for days on end only to have them later barrel it out in an hour or so once they chose to focus?

According to research, sometimes our teen’s brains will jump to conclusions based on their emotions. In other words, when their perception of how much homework they have is dramatically overblown, the situation can feel hopeless which can make them feel depressed, anxious, and avoidant.

To prevent that, challenge your teen to actually track their study time (that means no scrolling or clicking – just actual study and homework time). Chances are, your teen might begin to realize that they really don’t have as much homework as they think they do – rather their perception is blown out of proportion.

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