Wednesday, October 26, 2016


Originally posted October 26, 2016    author: Samantha Woods

"Pay Attention!!" 
Are our kids more distracted than ever?

The simple answer is...YES!

SnapChat, Instagram, Facebook, Netflix, FaceTime, Skype... Earbuds in, music on, phone in hand, YouTube channel in full swing - and it’s not even 9:00 am?!  How does the teenage brain pay attention when it is inundated with so much juicy sensory information all day long?  I find myself saying to my teenage boys on a regular basis “Pay attention.” “Did you get that?”  “Can you even hear me right now?” 

As our children download music with one hand and update their numerous statuses with the other, it is no wonder they are distracted and focused on a world that is much more novel and enticing than an algebra worksheet, making their lunch or studying for an upcoming test. With dopamine surging through their brains each time they get a ‘LIKE’ the addiction and resulting distraction becomes more real.

Even as you read this blog, I will be competing with hundreds of distractors for your attention. Maybe you are tired, distracted, bored (I hope not!) or perhaps cognitive overload has set in and you just don’t have brain power left to read an entire article! Gone are the days of carefully reading and digesting articles carefully from front to back - instead, we scroll quickly (sometimes frantically), top to bottom, looking for something  novel to spark our interest, worthy of further exploration.

I love Dr. Peg Dawson’s definition of attention because it really does clarify what it means to ACTUALLY pay attention. Dr. Peg says, “Sustained attention is the capacity to maintain attention to a situation or task IN SPITE of distractibility, fatigue or boredom.”  

This is why some of our children can play video games for hours on end without us noticing one moment of unfocus, but that same child struggles to sustain attention for 10 minutes while working on homework at the kitchen table. The question to ask is: Can we pay attention EVEN IF we are bored, tired, distracted by something else?

Children’s and teens’ brains are wired to pay attention to things that are interesting right NOW.As much as adults would like them to pause and consider future goals and visions, along with the consequences and future implications of their actions, they simply don’t. Instead, their developing brains prioritize novel stimuli resulting in the familiar and mundane being placed on the back burner. So, when we say “Pay Attention!” our youth actually are...just not to what we want them to attend to! :) 

How do we build intentional attention in not only our children, but in ourselves? How do we teach our children to manage distraction in a world that is providing live, minute-by-minute opportunities to follow tempting tangents and delectable distractors?

A recent study, “The Power of the Like in Adolescence Effects of Peer Influence on Neural and Behavioral Responses to Social Media” published in the Journal of Psychological Science had some remarkable findings about what consumes our youngsters attention throughout the course of day. Read more about Teens and Social Media from our friends at “Hey Sigmund.”

I believe DISTRACTION MANAGEMENT is going to become an essential 21st survival century skill - I think we can all agree that the Age of Information Overload isn’t going anywhere soon! “Self-regulation is often a better predictor of academic outcomes than is IQ or grades,” (Duckworth, A. 2013. Self-Regulation and School Success).

Neuroscientist and teaching guru, Dr. Judy Willis explains the importance of students developing distraction inhibition and attention/focus. “Learning to voluntarily control what information is accepted through their attention filters, and to block the sensory input of distracting data, is an essential skill for students to develop. Strategies that help build students’ “Top Down” abilities to intentionally focus attention and inhibit distraction have profound influence on their success in school and far beyond.” (2015, Judy Willis).

Teaching Distraction Management

At Kaizen, we provide students with opportunities to discover what their key distractors are and how it impacts their brains. We teach them that their brains can only process about 1% of the millions of bits of sensory data entering their brain!  Our students are surprised when we show them they have an attention filter (some with larger holes than others!) and they have the power to CONTROL what they let through this filter. For those students that are adamant that they can listen to music, watch Netflix and text their friends AND effectively study for an upcoming test or completing an assignment, we have some fun conducting a ‘prove us wrong’ experiment. During this time, we present an activity that takes both focus and time - one round with distraction and one round without. We also have them try out the experiment at home with parents and siblings.  They are amazed to learn how distraction and supposed multitasking can almost double their time to complete a task and significantly increase their rate of error! Keep that in mind when YOU are making dinner, helping your child with homework, feeding the dog, listening to a friend’s woes on the phone all while returning a few emails...

Teaching our students how distraction works and how easily we can all be pulled away from whatever it is we ‘should’ be doing, is the first step in creating awareness. Creating awareness leads to implementing ways to reduce distractions and increase focus.

And finally….

Like all new skills, focus and attention take practice to become habit. Creating an awareness of what focus feels like can be very empowering for busy developing brains. Read more here about some  Focus Exercises for ALL students, not just those diagnosed with ADD. Taking 10 minutes a day to practice being mindful can have a powerful impact on our ability to calm our busy brains and increase our focus and attention.

Check out the Smiling Mind program and App to bring some calm into you and your child’s day.

Also, a great read for adults (albeit a LONG read!) is “The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload” by Dr. Daniel J. Levitin. Learn how leaders in the information age excel.

All of our kids have it in them to be extraordinary. The more information we share with them about how their developing brains are working, especially a world driven by distraction, the more empowered they will feel to take control of the one thing they do have control of - themselves!

As always, we are here to help. 
 Better and better!
 ~ Samantha

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