Education & Family

Online homework and social media pose parental dilemma

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Image caption Parents find it harder to supervise homework that involves internet research

Parents feel unable to make children study by blocking internet access, as homework often requires online research, a survey suggests.

Some 63%, of 2,000 UK parents polled said confiscating smartphones and tablets was futile.

But 70% feared social media could distract children from their work.

The survey, for an internet blocking service, found 56% felt using parental web filters could damage their relationship with their children.

Many parents said they wanted their children to develop the self-discipline to control their own internet use.

Parents of secondary pupils aged 11 to 16 were questioned earlier this month.

"What am I supposed to do? Stop her when she says it's essential for her homework. But when she's meant to be working, she's actually on social media on the computer," said the mother of 15-year-old Elly, from Worcestershire.

'Mucking about'

"He took two hours to do his homework - 20 minutes doing it, the rest of the time mucking about on the web. Turn off the internet and he has a tantrum," said another parent.

The parent of a 12-year-old said an attempt to block the internet had resulted in rebellion: "She just sat there and didn't do her homework for the whole time the internet was blocked."

BBC News School Reporters Olivia and Claudia, both 14 and from the Charles Dickens School in Broadstairs, Kent, admitted being easily sidetracked online, particularly by Facebook.

"I don't think it is practical to turn the internet off because I do use it for most of my homework. I think a better solution would be to temporarily block Facebook," said Olivia.

She said her parents tried to stop her spending "unreasonable amounts of time" on the internet but trusted her enough not to block it.

Claudia said her parents sometimes confiscated electronic devices or put a timer on the household internet connection.

"I personally believe it is better have self-discipline because it shows that you are mature and focused," she added.

Siobhan Freegard, co-founder of the parenting website Netmums, said parental internet filters could be blunt instruments, signalling "a total lack of trust and understanding" between parents and children.

Dialogue was better, she suggested, along the lines of: "Come on, let's get this homework done," but she admitted it could be difficult.

"I have a boy who is just not interested in academia. He can be distracted just as easily by a spider on the wall as by social media.

"There have always been distractions. I can remember being told off for reading Jackie magazine inside my textbooks.

"There was a feeling that only children from bad families did their homework with the TV on.


"My parents used to tell me, 'You can't concentrate with music on in your bedroom.'"

Some parents said they preferred their children to control their own internet use.

Elly and her parents now use software that allows Elly to set her own homework targets, block the internet for the time she needs to achieve these targets and award herself success ratings when she completes her homework in time.

Image caption Parents struggle to monitor what their children are up to online

"She's in full control. She loves it. She writes down her goals, puts in the social media sites she wants to block and the amount of time," said Elly's mother.

Will Little, of Stop Procrastinating, the web blocking service which commissioned the survey, said many parents wanted to encourage their children "to block the internet for their own benefit rather than because their parents are telling them to".

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