Updated: Nov 10, 2022
By Sean McCormick & Maya Pugatch
What do you do when your student is addicted and distracted by their phone? Almost everybody has a cell phone and, for teenagers, phones can be very distracting, especially when it comes to working on school assignments and studying. As an executive function coach, you can help a student improve their focus on their studies with the strategies below:
Strategy #1 - Respectfully explain your intention and set the phone aside
If a student cannot get off of their phone during a meeting, start by asking the student what it is on their phone that is distracting them. It may be an emergency where they have to stay in contact with someone, so it is important not to immediately ask them to get off of their phone.
If it is not an emergency and they are fully distracted by social media or texting with friends, begin to explain to the student that your time with them is limited and you want to make the most out of each session. Be respectful and let your student know that the phone is becoming a problem and that you both will get the most out of each session if full attention is given.
Once you have explained this, it will be easier to ask them to set the phone aside for the time being and they will likely be more willing to agree.
Strategy #2: Remove the cell phone from the session altogether
Even with a cell phone set aside, it is easy to have the urge to pick it back up. To avoid this urge altogether, make an agreement with your student to leave the phone in a different room while working with you. To make your student feel more comfortable, you may want to do the same and leave your own phone in a different room or power it off.
Sometimes a cell phone is needed during a coaching session. For example, in online settings, the Zoom connection may be unstable and you may need to speak over the phone instead. If this is the case, ask your student to power off their phone and set it aside somewhere nearby. That way, if you need to run the session over the phone, the student will be able to access it quickly.
Strategy #3: Schedule timed breaks within your session with a student
In extreme cases, it may be difficult for a student to power off their phone or leave it in a separate area during a session. If this is the case, schedule a time during your session where your student is able to spend some time on their phone. For example, if you have 1 hour to work with your student, schedule a 5 minute break when you get to the halfway point. As sessions go on, you can lessen the amount of time the student is allowed on their phone until it gets to 0 and they are able to spend the full session without their phone.
Nothing is perfect and no solution works every time. However, I encourage you to try these strategies out and see if they help. Ultimately, it may be important to involve the family in a discussion if the student is not in a state of mind to reasonably problem solve with you. This may also indicate that a therapeutic intervention may be more appropriate to support the student's needs.
What works for you to help students stay off their phones and engaged in sessions?