Turning Off Digital Distractions

Updated: Jan 9, 2019

Have you considered turning off the WiFi in your home to help your student focus? You are not alone! Social media, computer games, and incessant notifications can certainly put a damper on productivity. While there are more distractions than ever available online, there are also many innovative apps and web-based solutions to quiet the noise and perhaps even save your (and your child’s) sanity.

We empathize with students in the digital age, as they are expected to navigate online portals and complete school assignments online without distraction. We expect them to have the self-control to work for a few hours while resisting the lure of Fortnite, Instagram, or Netflix. If that’s not hard enough, every time students succumb to the temptation to check a notification or social media feed, more time is lost trying to regain focus. We find that many students multi-task and go off-task so much during homework time that they don’t really know how long they spend on homework. Two to three hours very easily becomes four to six and the student feels like she has been "working all night." A recent study by the University of California Irvine suggests it may take as many as 23 minutes to focus attention back to the task at hand. It’s no wonder that some students end up working on school assignments until midnight and beyond on a regular basis.

If your student is struggling to quiet the noise of digital distractions independently, begin by assessing the noise (both literally and in a broader sense), and then intervene if necessary. Your teenager might not perceive her behavior as problematic, so it’s important to offer some data as evidence for your concerns. How much screen time is happening daily, and how much is too much? Moment (Android and Apple devices) and Screen Time (Apple devices only) track how much you use your phone and tablet daily or weekly. These tools provide reports detailing which apps are used the most and offer daily limits to help change behavior and teach users to rely on each device less. Parents can even set time limits on their child’s social networking or entertainment apps by setting a passcode. After assessing your student’s screen time usage, consider turning off the noise with a few of our favorite apps for digital distraction.


Forest is available as a Google Chrome extension or mobile app for Android and Apple devices. It acts as a timer designed to support users as they set a target amount of time to focus without using their phone; this gamifies the experience of using a device less by encouraging users to grow a bigger forest the longer they can focus. The app monitors screen time and the number of times the phone is picked up during the allotted time. This app may not be the best option for students who get stuck on a single behavior, as these users may feel the need to monitor the tree’s growth, which would defeat the purpose.

Freedom blocks Internet, social media, and apps across a range of devices (Mac, Windows, and iOS). It restricts Internet access for up to 8 hours at a time and allows users to customize blocklists. Parents can select the devices, set the schedule, and block apps and websites for a set amount of time.

Offtime, an Android and Apple app, blocks social media and entertainment apps but allows those for productivity to remain. An excellent feature is built-in for those suffering from FOMO (fear of missing out)—the app will send an automatic reply sharing when you will be available. The app allows for customized settings, such as muting notifications but allowing calls. On the Android app, there is also an option to enable certain people to contact you no matter what blocks are in place.

SelfControl is a free Mac iOS app that allows users to block distracting websites, such as news or social media, for a set duration of time. There is also the option to create a “whitelist” and block the entire Internet except a few select websites.

Stay Focusd is a customizable Google Chrome extension designed to help users limit time off task. Users set a time limit for exploring distracting websites, and once the given limit is reached, blocked websites will be blocked for the duration of the day.

The Hayutin & Associates directors have curated a list of our favorite apps for executive function. Download the latest copy of our Tech Toolbox here.

~Courtney Wittner, M.Ed

Director, Hayutin & Associates

  • Pinterest
  • Instagram
Hayutin & Associates

Tel: 310.829.7505

Fax: 310.829.7514

2500 Santa Monica Boulevard, Suite 100

Santa Monica, CA 90404

© 2017 Hayutin & Associates

tutoring | test prep | independent study | executive function