Managing The Constant Distraction…

It is a difficult year to be in Year 12 – and we have covered this from many angles on the Wellbeing Hive, including dealing with uncertainty, and with the many rites of passage these students have missed out on.

But how about the challenges of studying at home?  Our Year 12 Students have been trying to focus at home for around ten or eleven weeks this year, and these holidays – typically a study break in most years – will add another two on to them.

There is a good reason why many students prefer to learn on campus and that is because home is too distracting.

There are fridges full of food whispering of tasty snacks, X-boxes and other gaming consoles waiting to be played, there are siblings in less challenging years of schooling enjoying holidays in a more traditional sense and more… and many things missing that make being on campus more focused – including teachers keeping you on track.

One of the things that must be most challenging is the temptation to keep picking up your phone.  We have already written a little on the Wellbeing Hive about the temptation of notifications… but we can actually be distracted by the presence of our phones even without notifications.  In fact, Social Sciences Professor Sherry Turkle suggests that over 40 % of teenager NEVER unplug – neither during family dinner, homework time, nor even when sleeping.  You might be interested with her 2012 TED Talk here.

Let’s face it – our phones are addictive.  How often do we as adults find ourselves mindlessly scrolling through Instagram or Facebook at times when we should be doing other things?  But instead – we have FOMO – Fear Of Missing Out.  And we don’t need a notification to feel this – the very existence of our phone provides us with a sense of an online life occurring without us every time we put it aside.

In his book Atomic Habits, James Clear delves a little into the role of mobile phones in our lives.  In a section dedicated to finding and fixing the causes of our bad habits, Clear suggests that our mobile phone habits actually tie into crucial human needs that need meeting. For example:


Using an online dating app – the human need to find love and acceptance

Scrolling through Facebook – the basic need to bond and connect with others

Posting on Instagram – the common need for acceptance and reassurance from others

Googling About Coronavirus (or other topical issues)  the need to reduce uncertainty

Gaming Excessively – the need to achieve status and prestige


These are all common human needs, although not perhaps the most authentic or useful ways of seeking them out.

Whilst reading Clear this week it occurred to me as well that our phones must be even more powerful now during the lockdown and pandemic, as we are being more and more conditioned to seek connection and entertainment on them, and more and more uncertain that perhaps ever before about our day to day futures.

So let’s take a moment to acknowledge how difficult a task it really is to ask teenagers to manage separating themselves from their phones and managing the subsequent feelings of withdrawal.  No wonder many of the experts suggest that “digital amputation” is not the answer.

Instead, Clear suggests finding better ways to meet these needs may assist young people to feel less drawn to their phones – especially when the need to study is crucial.

So before a study session it may be useful to:

  • Ensure a young person has had a chance to connect with peers, maybe through a walk or other form of exercise where possible
  • They have chatted through any concerns about the day with an adult
  • They work on a project that gives them a sense of achievement – or look forward to working on one later

Little strategies like these may make it easier to put the phone elsewhere during a study session, having met the needs represented by our bad scrolling habits beforehand.


This may pose an opportunity for reflection for we adults as well.  What do your phone habits suggest you need to work on?


Photo by Bongkarn Thanyakij