Homework: no lyrics allowed!

Parents often ask whether their children may listen to music while doing homework. Rationalizations abound in the preface to such inquiries, such as, “It’s only classical music,” and “Music relaxes him so he can concentrate.” While there is a case for listening to classical music, especially when doing Math, teenagers are often distracted by music, especially when listening to music with lyrics they know.

Try having a conversation on this topic with your child while you are writing a letter or email to a business contact. Can you concentrate on both conversations at once? Do you find that you must pause during one or the other conversation to compose your thoughts and make your best case? In a conversation about his new book, You Are Here, on National Public Radio's Talk of the Nation, author Colin Ellard ascribed one cause of becoming “lost” to our senses' interfering with one another. Ellard says:

“…certainly, if we have to deal with too much information at once, then it’s going to make us more likely to leave the here-and-now, to lose contact with what it is that we should be paying attention to and so radios, cell phones, all kinds of electronic devices, when we’re using them as we’re walking or driving from place to place, tend to take us away from the here-and-now and make it more likely that we’ll get lost…”

When a student listens to music with lyrics that he knows, there is no way for him to simply concentrate on what he is writing. The lyrics create an underlying “conversation” in his brain as he mulls over thoughts for his paper. He becomes less present, unfocused, “lost in space" – not at every moment, but throughout the night. He may turn in an English paper LIKE THIS.

If homework is taking your student a long time every night; if papers are receiving low grades after much effort; if you want to see a large result with a small change: turn off the iPod. Welcome your child back into the moment.

For more info:
Talk of the Nation discussion with Colin Ellard
Neurobiology report: the correlation between music & math
Abstract: Effects of popular & classical music on math test scores
College students discuss listening to music while doing homework


first published by Marie Furnary
 7/08/09 on Examiner.com