Whether your teen is easily distractible or overwhelmed by a busy schedule, the key to helping them focus is understanding the source of their struggles. When you and your teen figure out why their attention is going elsewhere, together you can find the right approach to bringing it back to the present moment. Each of these six strategies addresses a different distraction challenge in a way that might surprise you. According to parents and teens, they’re focus game-changers.
Our Favorite Focus App
The Flipd – Keep Focused app gets rave reviews. It includes mindfulness tools, custom reminders, a time tracker, lock mode, and community features to help teens define and stick with a goal. We think it’s most useful for carving out dedicated study time, free from distractions. Kids create a category like “Homework” and the app tracks their \”time well spent.\” Lock mode hides games, social media, and distracting downloaded apps, and blocks notifications for a set amount of time. (They can still access phone, text, and email.) Users can also connect with others in online study groups. And in response to parents’ safety concerns, there’s no direct communication between users (like chat or messaging). One young reviewer says, “(Flipd) has honestly changed the way I study forever. Getting to study online with others in groups is a lifesaver and makes you feel like you’re not alone.” Teens also have access to attention-boosting resources including music, guided meditations, and breathing practices. Flipd is thoughtfully designed, easy to use, and not a bad idea for parents who may need a little help with focus, too! Many features are free; a premium subscription is $5.99/month or $42.99/year.
Focus-Boosting Essential Oils
Essential oils have long been used to calm and re-center the mind, body, and spirit. We love Plant Therapy’s KidSafe blends (formulated for ages 2+), many of which come in convenient pre-diluted roll-ons. They’re inexpensive and easy to throw in a backpack for use whenever teens’ minds wander. The Hocus Focus roller has a light citrusy scent that most kids like. Lime, Bergamot, and Petitgrain help with alertness and energy. Atlas Cedar and Chamomile are soothing and calming, and Vetiver stabilizes the mind.
We’ve also found that the simple act of using the roller helps teens develop healthy habits for homework and test-taking. It signals, “time to focus,” cues kids to set their minds on the task before them, and makes it natural to focus on the breath. At less than $10, we think it’s well worth keeping a few of these around. And check out Plant Therapy’s other kid-friendly blends, too.
Noise Canceling Headphones
Noise canceling headphones can be expensive, but they’re a lifesaver when teens study in noisy, distracting settings. This pair from Skull Candy is well-reviewed and popular with teens, without breaking the bank. The controls are easy to use, charging is fast, and the headphones are lightweight and can be sized to easily fit slightly smaller heads.
Teens can use their headphones to listen to any of the ambient background music or therapeutic sounds available on Flipd (above) or Headspace, start their study time with a guided meditation or breathing practice, or create their own playlist of focus-friendly tunes. Overall, this is a sound investment in their mental health.
A Visual Timer
We know: why buy a timer when we all have a free one on our phones? The big reason, of course, is that phones are teens’ number one distraction. Even in lock mode, phones take the edge off their ability to focus because they’re so used to reaching for them at any moment. Time Timer’s Mod Sprint Edition 60 Minute Visual Timer is the best visual timer we’ve found, with a no-fuss design, clear display, and protective silicone case. It’s a valuable tool for teens who are neurodiverse, easily distracted, or in need of a digital detox.
Visual timers provide a sense of control and help kids build time-management and planning skills. Teens or parents can set the timer in 5 minute increments for homework, chores, or any other task, as well as to limit screen time. Focus develops over time by gradually increasing the increments, and kids can easily switch back and forth between different tasks or subjects. We like that the alarm feature is optional, so the timer can be used in quiet or group settings, too. Visual timers are popular with teachers for good reason, and focus-challenged teens can use them to develop positive habits that last a lifetime.
A Low-tech Fidget
Fidgets are now famous, and there are tons of different ones to suit different teens’ needs. Our current favorite fidget is therapy putty or therapy dough – essentially, it’s silly putty or play dough with a purpose! It’s an inexpensive, low-tech sensory solution that fidget-prone kids can carry anywhere. Just playing with the dough helps teens manage anxiety, ease tension, and relax an overactive mind. We like the all-natural, aromatherapeutic Therapy Dough created by Cammie and Kip Weeks. Choose lavender for calmness, eucalyptus for relaxation, or orange for a mood boost. If your teen has allergies, be aware that this product contains both soy and gluten.
Another option is Crazy Aaron’s Therapy Putty made of silicone, which is non-toxic and considered hypoallergenic. It’s also gluten free and latex free. The small canister is a great size to fit in a pocket or backpack. We’ve heard from a lot of teens that therapy dough has helped them with pandemic anxiety. It’s become one of our staple sensory resources for keeping kids calm and focused.
A Paper Planner
With today’s crammed schedules, sometimes teens’ focus issues are more of an organization problem. And let’s face it – even with all the digital tools out there, sometimes the best strategy is still a paper planner. Writing things down gives kids a sense of control and makes a routine out of planning. The Order Out Of Chaos Academic Planner is highly recommended by parents, coaches, tutors, and teachers for guiding teens to manage their time and tasks effectively. Created by mom and time management expert Leslie Josel, the Academic Planner is simply but thoughtfully designed to help kids to focus and prioritize tasks. Some features that set this planner apart:
- School assignments are placed alongside extracurricular and weekend activities,
- The planner is hole-punched to fit easily in a binder,
- The Next Week/Notes section helps teens track bigger or more complex assignments and projects, and
- Visual aids and planner pointers make it a snap for kids to start using.
We like the larger size and recommend buying the optional month tabs for an even more focus-friendly experience. This is the 2021 National Calendar Award Best Student Calendar for a reason. It helps high-achieving, busy teens feel empowered to reach their goals and focus on what matters most to them.