They are at their desk.  There’s homework to be completed.  The books are open, the iPod is on shuffle and hard-wired to their ears, their phone is chirping and flashing as texts arrive and are sent, and the computer is scrolling with instant messages…

Just another evening in an adolescent’s bedroom, right?

There’s been a lot said about the ability of teenagers to multitask and, certainly from my perspective, they seem more capable of handling a variety of simultaneous activities far more effectively that I am.  Surely there is no real problem here; after all, multitasking is a necessary and expected part of our life, isn’t it.

Not too long ago, I would have said ‘yes’.   Indeed, my busy work life has had me handling many things and feeling the need to jump from one event to the next, from one thought process to another on a daily basis.

But my thoughts have been challenged recently by an article titles Monotasking is the new multitasking.  In a nut-shell,  the author reports on research done by Clifford Nash who says people who regularly multitask “can’t filter out irrelevancy”.  Indeed, you only have to google the term monotasking and you’ll be provided with a plethora of possibilities to ponder, including a fun little TED talk by Paolo Cardino that you should take the time to watch.

The article I read indicated 5 things we should do to minimise multitasking and start the move toward monotasking.  Parents and teachers should take note of these and encourage adolescent learners to understand their realities for learning.  These five things, listed below, were proposed by Australian Psychotherapist Nelly Cullen.

  • Create a distraction-free work environment
  • Reduce potential interruptions to your work
  • Disengage from other work
  • Be present in the moment
  • Set time limits for intense work and take breaks.

For the adolescent learner, I believe this means…

  • Getting rid of the phone and IM apps when homework is being done
  • Justifying the type of music that is being listened to when working.  Interestingly, and perhaps frustratingly for teens, research indicates this is Mozart or Tchaikovsky or Corelli.
  • Short but intense bursts of learning time is best.  Parents can help with this by helping teens to gradually increase the length of these work bursts.  Perhaps through the early teen years it might be up to ten minutes at a time with short, active breaks.  By late secondary school, this should be set at an optimum 20 to 45 minutes at a time, again with an active break where movement is involved.

No matter how you look at it, it seems we all might have to do some re-evaluation of our work habits, I reckon…


sleep in teens

As educators who work with adolescents, we know that there are monumental changes that happen in the bodies of teenagers as they grow, develop and change.  One of those changes has an impact on the adolescent’s ability to sleep, resulting in potential sleep deprivation (or what is now more commonly termed ‘sleep debt’).  
With this in mind, I wrote the following for my school’s parent newsletter.  You might find it of value…


There are good biological reasons why teens struggle to get to sleep and can’t be woken in the morning. But there are some good things parents can do to minimize the impact on teens.

If you are finding your teen is often drowsy upon waking, tired during the day, and wakeful at night, then the following information summary may be helpful.  The full article and links can be found at

Until the age of 10, most children awaken refreshed and energetic. In adolescence, the brain’s biological clock, or circadian rhythm, shifts forward. Melatonin secretions, which trigger sleepiness, start later at night and turn off later in the morning. This natural shift peps up adolescents at the traditional weekday bedtime of 9 or 10 p.m. and can explain why it is so hard to rouse them at sunrise. In contrast, circadian rhythms in middle-aged people tend to swing backward, and many parents struggle to stay awake when their adolescent children are at their most alert.

Teenagers actually need as much sleep or more than they got as children—nine to ten hours are optimum. Most adolescents are chronically sleep-deprived, averaging a scant six to seven hours a night.  Too little sleep can result in uncontrolled napping, irritability, inability to do tasks that are not exciting or of a competitive nature, and dependence on caffeine drinks to stay alert.

Sleep debt also has a powerful effect on a teen’s ability to learn and retain new material, especially in abstract subject areas such as physics, philosophy, math, and calculus.

Parents can help teenagers get enough sleep by keeping TVs and electronic gadgets out of their bedrooms, switching to caffeine-free drinks in the evening, and getting them to wind down activity by a reasonable hour. Catch-up sleep on weekends is a second-best option because it can confuse the brain as to when night-time occurs and is not as restorative as regular slumber.


Learning Internet Safety (Guest Post)



As educators, we understand the inherent issues and the dangers of poor internet safety understanding.  This is especially the case in adolescents.  For many, the bombardment of images and themes via the internet can bring about many social, emotional and psychological pressures… sexual confusion through exposire to explicit material being just one.  We, as adults, are aware of the dangers of providing personal details online but, due to poor decision making during this time of brain reorganisation and development, young people will easily ignore such boundaries.  I think most will also agree that the internet can give a skewed understanding of the world. But there is another side the the coin.  The internet is powerful and informative and connective and… here to stay.

It is my privilege, today, to host another blog post from Albert Roberts. Read on as he explores…


 At What Age Should Children Learn About Internet Safety?

The birth of the world wide web has become one of the most significant developments in history. It informs almost everything that we do as people – we use it for leisure, work, learning and play. As all reasonably rational teachers, parents and guardians know, it can be both an invaluable tool and a potential danger. We will never effectively tackle the dangers that lurk on the internet, if we cannot first come to terms with this dichotomous truth. What we can do is educate and inform children in our care about the dangers of the internet. We must do this from an early age, and we must do it without tricks or lies.

It is hard to teach children about internet safety, because we can’t always protect ourselves from its conmen, trolls and predators. If a fully functioning adult can be targeted by the darker forces on the web, how can we possibly keep the most vulnerable members of society safe from them? The key is to come to terms with the fact that our control of the internet is limited. There are bad things out there, but we can’t influence or stop the vast majority of them – not on our own.

There are countless stories of parents forbidding their children from using the internet at home, only to later find out that they’re accessing dangerous material or talking to dangerous people in secret. There is safety in honesty, there is security in being open with children. Nevertheless, it can be tricky to work out when a child is old enough to start learning about safety internet. This is due to the fact that there’s no real consensus for when a child is old enough to start using the internet.

If we can all agree that it’s best to leave the free use of the internet to the discretion of parents, it is safe to assume that an awareness of internet safety should begin as soon as your child is given leave to browse the web. Whilst a child is below twelve years of age, it is best to use the internet together. When your child begins to approach adolescence, you can begin to touch upon some of the more serious risks involved with independently surfing and using the internet. You should never try to frighten your child into behaving appropriately online, because this will only increase their confusion.

For children under 12 it’s important to establish simple and easy to understand “golden” rules:

  • Never Share Names, Schools, Ages, Phone Numbers, or Addresses
  • Never Open An Email From A Stranger – It May Contain Viruses That Can Harm A Computer
  • Never Send Pictures To Strangers Or View Pictures That Strangers Send To Them
  • Keep Passwords Private (Except to Parents)
  • Tell A Trusted Adult if Something Mean or Creepy Happens On The Internet

Children are inherently curious things – even more so when they reach adolescence. It can often seem like the act of forbidding a certain action can have the opposite effect. If you forbid a certain action without fully explaining why, that teenage need to rebel will only become more of a problem – the internet can be too dangerous a place to take that risk. A large part of tackling this issue is confronting the fact that teen’s might be actively trying to search for mature content online. Whilst it is true that sanctions can sometimes be useful, discretion must be used here. Teen’s have to deal with a rapidly changing brain and they need support, even if it isn’t always palpable.

It does not make a child abnormal or even badly behaved, it just means that they’re exploring the limits of their own sexuality. In order to stay safe, they simply have to know that not everybody tells the truth online. They must fully understand that even if they feel like they can trust an online friend, there is no guarantee that that online friend is telling the truth. Don’t be afraid to discuss this dilemma frankly with teens – be careful not to patronise, but do explain that adolescent brains sometimes find it harder to deal with making clear and rational decisions.

It is natural for adolescents to be curious about the darker side of the internet and at this age, 24 hour supervision isn’t possible, and never healthy. This is precisely why early reinforcement is so vital – if you give children the right information and tools, they will apply it on their own behalf. Don’t simply tell them not to share personal information, agree to meet strangers or share photographs via the internet. You need to first identify the reasons why an adolescent might want to do these things – bearing in mind we most often won’t particularly like the answers.

The difference between teaching and telling is a very fine one – teaching a child about internet safety rather than just tell them how important it is. Children won’t have any frame of reference to help them understand exactly why they need to be careful online, so there’s no point trying to have discussions about chat rooms or sexual predators at a very early age. It is much more effective to teach them the basic internet safety rules as if they are an immutable fact of life. If you teach a child these things early enough, they will become an accepted part of life.


Albert Roberts has been a secondary school teacher for eleven years. He recommends checking out the services from School Explained as they are great for improving the relationship between teachers, parents and students alike.  Albert can be found online blogging about how to engage challenging students and how to improve parent teacher relationships.

Why Teens Forget


Mia MacMeekin, of An Ethical Island, and I have worked together to create an infographic about the teen brain. It is partly based on a blog post I wrote some time ago to tackle the issue of Teen Forgetfulness. Through lots of research, checking facts, and rechecking facts, we have found that teens forgetfulness may be due to major changes in their brain during the adolescent years. These changes frequently last into the late teen years and, in some cases, well beyond.

While there is research that demonstrates the increased forgetfulness of teens, we also found that research suggests this time period is an awesome explosion of learning and discovery that takes them into adulthood.

Thanks, Mia! It was a great experience to collaborate on these infographics.  I appreciate your graphical skill!

So, friends, have a look below and tell us what you think!

(PS Further information of teen forgetfulness can be found on my blog here and here.)


Costly Kids – Guest Post


Whether you are a parent or an educator, you will be well aware that raising children involves a great cost. The greatest cost surely is emotionally for we invest so much of ourselves in our children. But there is a financial cost too (for parents).
Here in Australia, it has been determined (who knows how) that it costs AU$450,000 to raise a child to age 21. Mind you, if you have two kids, you can apparently get them both across the line for the discount price of AU$800,000!

For something different this week, I thought you might be interested in the following Guest Post infographic submitted by Vera Reed.


It’s never too early to start thinking about saving for your kid’s higher education plans. Whether your child is planning on college or university, public or private; it’s important to start saving early to ensure you’re not caught unprepared when the time comes. One of the ways you can begin saving is cutting out some of life’s simple luxuries; Yes, that might mean skipping your daily morning trip to the coffee shop.

The cheeky infographic below, brought to us by PassGED, outlines some ways you can ease into saving for your kid’s college or university plans. Applying some of these tips early on when your kids might soon be starting their secondary school education will make the cost much more achievable. Although some of the terms used below are specific to Americans, the overall theme stands true. The biggest tip to saving money for your kids higher education, is to start early and to cut back on unnecessary expenses. You’ll be surprised how quickly the money adds up when you give up these small pleasures.

Vera Reed is a freelance writer from Southern California. She understands the importance of cutting back on small luxuries, and how big of a difference it can make to your bank account.

Teacher Technorati

Now… I’m assuming that, because you are reading an online blog, you have a reasonable amount of computer / internet / technological knowledge.  Certainly it is becoming increasingly important for teachers to remain as close to the technological cutting edge as possible.

But I wonder what your knowledge of social media is?  Particularly FaceBook.

I am aware of several educational organisation which explicitly forbid teachers from having FaceBook accounts (at least in terms of student contact or those which may blur the line between professional and private lives) but I believe it is vital that Middle Years teachers, especially, maintain as much currency as possible in the reals of society.  Why?  Because they need to understand the world that their students live in.

There are precautions that are needed (I will never ‘friend’ a student from my school, for example), but it became abundantly clear this past week that my FB knowledge was incredibly valuable but in a way I had not anticipated.  I had a parent contact me expressing concern about the content her son had allegedly posted on FB and she had no idea what to do about it.  She does not own a FB account; she did not know how to access her son’s account (even when he told her the password); she was confused and, in reality, a little scared. So… Mr Wilcox to the rescue!  Having been given some details, I was able to ensure the boy’s account was disabled for the weekend, giving the mother time to work through a few scenarios and discover some more information.  We’ll meet on Monday to work on a few strategies for her to work through with her son next week.

I was reminded that teaching is not just about the classroom.  There will be times – very necessary and valuable times – when the parents get drawn into my world of educating for change.  And maybe I can do the job of making the world a better place just that little bit more effectively.

What stories can you share on this topic?


On Being Proud


Education is a collaboration between the teachers, the students and the parents.  During the adolescent years, perhaps more than at any other time in a child’s life, the level of advocacy and encouragement kids receive from their teachers and parents has the power to shape a future.  The very words we say, the personal qualities we choose to stand and applaud, and the achievements we acknowledge have significance beyond anything we might ever know.

I was reminded of that in a very personal way today.  My son, who is about to finish school, is a musician and composer. During the past few years he has received much and significant encouragement from a wide variety of people – teachers, family, friends and, of course, from my wife and me.  And today that support was behind him being awarded a second place in a national songwriting competition.

I trust you will indulge me and allow me to do my job as an incredibly proud father.  Please take a moment have listen to his (almost) winning composition.  You’ll find Hayden’s name and a link to his composition in the middle of the list, and you will find some bio on him at the bottom of the page.

I trust you will always seek to recognise the unique individual wrapped up in the life of each adolescent in your Middle Years classes.


Forgetfulness in Teens


What is it about teenagers and forgetfulness?  Are they just being disobedient or disrespectful?  Is it selective hearing and they only choose to remember those things they want to?


You ask them to put their clothes away only to find the clothing exactly where you left it.

You send them to the shops to buy three simple things and they remember two (or have to call you to be reminded of all three).

They tell you, adamantly, four times that they have no homework and then suddenly remember, just as you send them to bed, that an assignment is due.

They finally remember to look in their locker and suddenly find their long-missing school jumper.  Despite your nagging.  The day after you bought them a new one.

What is it about teenagers and forgetfulness?  Are they just being disobedient or disrespectful?  Is it selective hearing and they only choose to remember those things they want to?

As much as we might like to think this is the case, the reality is likely to be something much different, and something we (frustratingly) can do little to fix.  For the reality, in many cases, is that forgetfulness in teens is due to what is happening in their brain.

During adolescence, the brain is undergoing significant redevelopment and reorganisation.  The Prefrontal Cortex (the area of the brain which plays an important role in planning, decision-making, organisation and rational thought) is the last part of the brain to become fully developed.  Often this part of the brain is not fully developed until the early 20’s (some wives are unsure whether it ever develops in some males).

Obviously this has a significant impact on a teenager’s ability to remember things that are important (well, important to parents and teachers).

When you add to this the fact that adolescence is also a time when hormones are flooding the brain and when the body’s circadian rhythms (sleep patterns) can shift remarkably resulting in a level of sleep deprivation, we start to get a picture of the very real struggles teenagers can have in recalling facts and events.

So, is there anything we can do to support our teens?  The good news is that, yes, there is.  And while we cannot expect forgetfulness to disappear, we can consider some fairly simple strategies that may help.

Perhaps one starting point is to evaluate the busyness of our teenager’s life.  For some, the frenetic pace of school, homework, assignments, work, sport, family events, Facebook profile maintenance, music lessons, youth group activities (you get the idea)… is simply making it impossible for them to keep track of what needs to be done next.  You may need to make some hard decisions about priorities and help your teen look at which aspects of their activity-life needs to be pruned.

There are also some simple tools you could consider that may assist both you and your teen keep track of ‘life’.  The College provides all secondary students with a Student Wall Planner.  Parents are encouraged to use this with their teen, in conjunction with the published assessment calendar and personal diary, to record the due date of assessment items and exams.  It is also a good place to record the regular events of their life and give you and them an overview of where the pressure points of life may lie.

I have seen some significant success at school when students have used colour-coded document wallets.  Students are encouraged to colour-code their books and learning materials needed for each subject.  All of the English materials, for example, might have green somewhere on them and would be kept in a green document folder.  The student’s timetable would then be printed with each of the English lessons for the week coloured green as well.  The same process happens for each subject – new subject, new colour.  Once this timetable is put in their locker, the students can easily see that they need to collect their green, red and blue folder for the next few lessons and can feel confident that they have all of the things they need for each of those subjects.

Other students have been using a single satchel which contains all of their subject notebooks along with their diary, pens, and the like.  While this is bulkier, they feel confident in having all of their books and materials with them no matter the lesson they attend.

Teenagers also need to be reminded that diaries and calendars, whether paper or electronic, actually do work but only when they become an integral part of the daily routine (both at school and at home).  But more than the reminder, many teens will benefit from the time a parent spends helping them set up the diary in a way that suits the teen.

Parents might also assist teens to establish a routine of thinking through the day ahead and laying out everything they need before going to bed.  Again, this may take some carefully timed encouragement and support (and reminders).

Whatever the support mechanism we use with teens to assist their memory, it is important that we understand that teens need reminding to use them. Many simply forget, often from one day to the next, that their diary needs to be used (or even that their diary exists).  What teens call nagging, parents know is consistency.  Yes it is frustrating, but our job is to fill in the gaps created by an intermittent prefrontal cortex. Perhaps the most powerful support-scenario is for parents to understand that teenagers still need significant support or scaffolding to manage the myriad of things they need to remember.



This is an article I wrote for parents at my school. I’m happy for you to use it in your school, with appropriate recognition, but please send me an email to let me know you plan to do so.

I have written a follow-up post on teenage forgetfulness.  You can read it here.

Image:  (c) Marcus Møller Bitsch.  Used with permission.  Check out this young man’s work.  It is creatively awesome!