Smart Phones are Smart for Homework Time, Too


When I was growing up, “homework time” looked like this: books and papers spread across the kitchen table, TV turned off and all other distractions kept to a minimum, including phone calls with friends (on the shared family phone with the eternally tangled chord). Mom-enforced.

Fast forward several decades. Recently, I went upstairs to check on my 17-year-old son, who was supposed to be studying, only to find him sitting on his bed, cell phone in hand, earbuds in, laptop open, TV on and no books in sight.

“What are you doing?! You’re supposed to be studying,” I yelled.

His response? “I am studying, mom,” Followed by the obligatory eye-roll.

As someone who studies Gen Z (those born between 1995-2010), I shouldn’t have been surprised. After all, Z’s are known for their ability to multitask across five screens at once (TV, desktop, laptop, smartphone, tablet). According to a recent study from Pandora, Gen Z’s are expert multitaskers and highly adept at processing multisensory content that appeals to the eyes, ears and touch—sometimes all at once.

Technology – most often accessed via their smart phones – is their go-to tool for connecting with the world around them, and this includes how they study and do homework. According to Sparks & Honey (a research firm that studies generations and cultural relevance):

  • 52% of Gen Z use YouTube or social media for typical research assignments
  • 33% watch lessons online
  • 32% work with classmates online
  • 20% read textbooks on tablets

Due to my homework routine as a teen, I still can’t concentrate with too much noise around me. I can’t even have music playing in the background when I’m working. But teens today are different. They say music helps them do their homework: 87% report listening to music while doing homework; 83% agree that music helps them study and think, increasing their performance in class and on tests.

Afraid your kids aren’t learning good study habits through all the noise and distraction? Don’t worry too much. Because Z’s are adept researchers. Despite their eight-second attention span, they are self-starters, self-educators and hungry for information. And because they’ve been wired since birth, they know how to leverage technology to find and absorb information with just a few swipes.

Of course, it’s still our responsibility as parents to make sure our kids are able to decipher what online information is actually useful and credible. And we need to reinforce that good learning habits also include offline tools, like taking handwritten notes and studying with a partner or small group. (Although that study group may meet via mobile chat vs. face-to-face.) But banning cell phones from homework time might actually be counter-productive to getting their work done.

That said, I still see no need for the TV to be on. That’s where I put my foot down, just like my mom did 30 years ago.