Education Quandary

'My 14-year-old daughter always listens to music or texts while working. Should I stop her? She does well at school'
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Hilary's advice

But could she do better, if she concentrated more? Almost certainly. However, the two things you mention are very different, and it might be sensible to fight a battle over only one of them.

Music, these days, is a constant sound track to many people's lives, and telling your daughter to do without it could seem to her like telling her that you want her to live without air or water. Instead, persuade her to experiment with the sort of music that is most conducive to work. She probably won't go as far as sampling Mozart or Bach, but she may discover that it is better to move over to something without distracting lyrics.

Texting is something else. To answer a text, she will have to switch her brain totally from one thing to another. Her concentration will be broken, and working time wasted. Explain this is why you want her to leave her mobile phone outside the room when she is doing her homework.

She may try to argue that flexible multi-tasking is what modern life demands of people, and that it is sensible for her to hone her skills at this while she is young. But as her behaviour is obviously making you anxious, tell her that while she may have a point, you are being an old-fashioned parent at this stage and asking her to stick to what you think is best for her work. Once she is out of the house, and away at university, she can work in any way she pleases.

Readers' advice

I had my parents on at me about this when I was 14, but in my case it was about the television, so we agreed an experiment. I did my homework one week with the television on and one week with it off. My marks on the week I had it on were better than on the week when it was off, and I took less time as well. They backed down and let me keep it on. Now I'm in the sixth form, though, I don't have it on any more. I listen to music.

Ian Grays, Southampton

My advice is that you should tell her to turn her phone off, but not worry about the music. Psychologists have found that in offices where people are allowed to use their personal headphones, there is an increase in performance, job satisfaction and mood, although I think that some older and more introverted workers do not always respond like this.

Virginia Furnham, Surrey

I'm 14 and always have music on when I'm doing homework, except when I'm reading, because then I need to hear how the words sound in my head. I also always have my phone with me. Parents don't understand how we can text and work at the same time, but to us it's just normal, and sometimes you need to ask a friend when you're stuck. You also might be worrying that you are missing something if you don't have your phone on, and that would really distract you from your work.

Rosie Middleton-Hey, Somerset

Next Week's Quandary

Dear Hilary,

Is there actual evidence that reading to children every night is good for them? I work full-time and have two boys, three and five. Sometimes we have a bedtime story, but sometimes I am tired and they have a tape. Now the Government is making me feel guilty by saying I must read to them every night. Why?

Send your letters or quandaries to Hilary Wilce, to arrive no later than Monday 14 January to 'The Independent', Education Desk, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; or fax: 020-7005 2143; or e-mail: Please include your postal address. Readers whose letters are printed will receive a Collins Paperback English Dictionary 5th Edition