What is a brain friendly study space?
The human brain is hard wired to attend to the shiniest, most interesting thing in the room. As humans grow, we develop a second attention system, our frontal executive network, that allows us to drag our attention away from the fun things, and place our attention on the tasks we need to accomplish in order to meet our goals. So while your 5th grader could probably finish his homework on the couch with his favorite TV show on, he is using substantial brain resources to do so. His frontal executive network is working very hard to help him resist looking at the TV. And each time he looks, his frontal executive network has to help him find his place in his homework, and re-orient to the problem he was working on. Those same brain resources could be used to make his homework go faster, with greater absorption of material.
Remove shiny objects
Facebook, Instagram, iPods, email, IM, TV, cell phone, and texting are all way more interesting than homework. None of them belong in a brain friendly study space. Studies show that human beings do not actually multi-task. What we actually do is rapidly shift our attention between tasks. And interruption during problem solving tasks has been shown to decrease our ability to effectively solve problems.
10 minute communication breaks
To avoid the collapse of their social lives, have your teenager take a 10 minute communications break every 45 minutes to hour to return texts, update social media, and chat with friends. This is not a bad idea for all of us to try at work. The effects of interruption on problem solving actually worsen as we age.