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Minimizing Distraction with Teens While at School

iPhone iOS Smartphones, Alerts, Sounds and Vibrations

In the last Statistics Canada report, approximately 88.1% of Canadians over the age of 15 years own a smartphone (1). It should be noted that Canada should be releasing a new report sometime later in 2021, early 2022, based upon 2020 data, and we are hypothesizing that we will see a bump in the 88.1%. Anecdotally, based upon our in-school visits pre-COVID, we found about 40% of elementary students owned a smartphone, middle school students approximately 80%, and high school students 95+%.

Given that many students have multiple social media and messaging apps on their phones, the constant sounds and vibrations of push notification alerts can be extremely distracting. It could be argued that the goal of these phones and apps is to draw and capture the attention of the owner outside their current focus of attention, via a visual cue (badge or blinking led light), auditory signal (beep, bell ding, music), or a haptic alert (vibration).

Given the reality of teen FOMO (fear of missing out), it is not uncommon that many of these push notifications are turned on purposely, or by default, so that the teen gets an alert in real-time when they receive a message, text, or event notification, no matter the time, day, or night.

In a 2014 study called, “An in-situ study of mobile phone notifications” (2) the researchers found:

“We found that mobile phone users have to deal with a large volume of notifications, mostly from messengers and email, each day (63.5 on average per day), which was perceived as the usual. Notifications were largely checked within a few minutes of arrival, regardless of whether the phone was in silent mode or not. In particular in the case of personal communication, explanations for these fast reaction times related to high social expectations and the exchange of time-critical information. Increasing numbers of notifications, in particular from email and social networks, correlated with negative emotions, such as stress and feeling overwhelmed. Personal communication, on the other hand, also related to increased feelings of being connected with others.”

A further study in 2018 “The effect of cellphones on attention and learning: The influences of time, distraction, and nomophobia” also supported the fact that being distracted by text messages in class reduces learning (3).

We believe that the use of technology in the classroom, no matter its form, including cellphones can be a great adjunct to learning when managed and controlled in the classroom (4). However, the distraction of push notifications in all their form can, and do, interfere with concentration and learning.

Given this fact, we believe if your child has a smartphone, especially younger teens, it is important for parents to ensure that they minimize its ability for teens to receive push notifications while in class.

One of the benefits of the iOS (Apple mobile platform) is the built-in Screen Time function that allows a parent to control push notifications on a child’s phone, and lock it behind a passcode that only the parents knows. If your child has an iPhone, iPad, or iPod here’s how to stop the distractions of push notifications:

Step #1:

Click on the settings button

Step #2:

Click on “Screen Time”

Step #3:

Click on “Always Allowed”

Step #4:

Click on Contacts and select “Specific Contacts” and pick only those people who can connect with your child via phone, Facetime, iMessage and iCloud (good example parents or caregivers)

Step #5:

Under the “Allowed Apps” pic those Apps that allow your child to communicate during downtime on the phone. We would recommend phone, iMessage, and Facetime and nothing more. This of course it totally up to the parent.

Step #6:

Go back to “Screen Time”

Step #7:

Click “DownTime”

Step #8:

Click “Customize Days” and pick Mon – Fri 8am-3pm (or whenever school start to when it ends)

Step #9:

Go back to “Screen Time” and “Click on “Use Screen Time Passcode” and enter a passcode that only you know, and do not provide it to your child. This now locks down all the above settings. ****DON”T FORGET YOUR PASSCODE****

Step #10:

Test your child’s phone to make sure you followed the above-noted directions correctly!

Yes, there are other ways on mobile devices to stop push notifications, like turning on “Do Not Disturb”, but these can all be turned back on by the teen. The above-noted process prevents this from happening unless approved by the parent first.

Now Is your kid going to like that you have controlled push notification – nope! Oh well, sometimes we parents have to do and say things that our kids aren’t going to like when it comes to technology, that’s what makes us parents. Having said this, it is important to explain the “why” before you take the above-noted action. Remember, phones are not a right to have, they are a privilege to have, and a part of that privilege is parents setting up proper controls on the phone, especially when it comes to distraction and learning during school hours.


For younger teens and pre-teens, we do not recommend an iPhone or Android phone, we endorse a phone called PINWHEEL that looks, feels, and operates like a smartphone (without all the capabilities of a smartphone) that is completely parent scaffolded. NO push notifications allowed. It’s a very low “distraction” phone (5).