Distracted Kids: Worse than Ever?

*SPECIAL EDITION* FOR NATIONAL SCREEN FREE WEEK April 29 – May 5, 2019

Are kids more distracted today than they used to be? Many believe so. Attention deficits and focus issues are pretty common and I don’t think it’s simply because we’re “looking for it.”

There are no easy answers to this question but here’s my humble observation based on study and years of observation of young children. Some children are dealing with true attention/hyperactivity issues and others, we may have trained, not on purpose, to go from one thing to another.

Trained? How could that be? Physical therapists are familiar with the fact a person learns what they practice. If you want to get better at reading, then you read. If you want to run a marathon, then you run—you don’t swim.

Recently I came upon the term, continuous partial attention. My curiosity was peaked as I read further. According to Wikipedia, Continuous partial attention (CPA) is the paying of simultaneous attention to a number of sources of incoming information, but at a superficial level. The term was coined by Linda Stone in 1998.[1] Author Steven Berlin Johnson describes this as a kind of multitasking: “It usually involves skimming the surface of the incoming data, picking out the relevant details, and moving on to the next stream. You’re paying attention, but only partially. That lets you cast a wider net, but it also runs the risk of keeping you from really studying the fish.”

An example is handling emails or texting while listening to the sermon or watching your favorite movie while skimming the latest #Trump tweets.

When our children have PawPatrol on the TV, but they’re watching something else on the tablet, aren’t they practicing continuous partial attention?

I think so. But I don’t get mad at the kids, ’cause we’re doing the same thing, aren’t we? Answering that urgent work email while halfway hearing them ask us what’s for dinner?

Now, what do we do about this? Do we want our children to partially pay attention and have a  superficial interaction with their world? I don’t think so. At least, I don’t.

If you don’t either, here some ideas:

First, recognize the problem. How many items, screens, etc. are your children playing with at the same time? TV on while reading a book? Five million toys on the floor at the same time?

Second, turn off the screens and eliminate background noise while your children are playing with the blocks or reading books. Embrace the sound of silence.

Third, do that spring cleaning I’ve mentioned before. Put in storage or toss toys your children barely play with and you are tired of picking up. Stop putting it off.

Children need to experience things deeply with less distractions. Screens rob them of the silence for their own thoughts and the ability to focus better on one thing at a time. Don’t you want a bit more quiet, #mom?

Please consider taking the screen free challenge this week in your home.

Do you have problems with your children getting bored or distracted?

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