“Pay Attention” — two words teachers often utter in an attempt to maximize learning. Unsurprisingly, these two words are frequently heard and understood; however, they don’t always translate into achieving the desired goal of “focus.” Teachers and parents battle with so many competing forces in today’s society. Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter and Netflix are some of the more enticing diversions which grab the attention of our young ones and hold it tightly. Sometimes it is a wonder teachers can capture the attention of their class for more than 10 minutes.
Kids Need a Different Kind of Attention Span for School
Whatever happens outside of the classroom, either in the home or in the world, sooner or later enters the classroom. No denying the value of advanced technology for educational gains; however, examining what happens to the brain with so much stimuli constantly crossing it might help us to better understand the attention piece. Have you ever noticed the speed at which computer games change backgrounds and the pace of the music which is carefully designed to keep up with the graphics? Fast-paced games work to keep a child’s focus because there is constant movement. Winning means responding immediately. Think time isn’t possible because losing a game would most likely come from a moment or two of reflection. Short bursts of attention are needed to perfect the gaming world and the built-in stimulation happens instantaneously. Likewise, many of the popular platforms such as Instagram and Snapchat are designed for quick check-ins that demand only seconds of attention.
School is much different. Sustained attention for long stretches is needed to master challenging concepts. Harder work and greater effort is required in the classroom before reaping the rewards. If students haven’t mastered the practice of staying with a difficult concept because their brains are trained to seek out instant rewards, will they be able to keep the focus? The academic rigor increases from year to year, so where does that leave students who spend hours each day relying on short bursts of attention rather than practicing and prolonging sustained attention?
A Need for Balance and Limits
“To put everything in balance is good, to put everything in harmony is better” — Victor Hugo, a French Romantic author of the 1800s, offers parents and educators who are grappling with attention some wise words. The answer to the attention problem might not be solely contained in screen time; rather, it might be embedded in what doesn’t happen when so much time is behind screens. Balance in life is key and it might be an important message in today’s society, especially for those who struggle with attention issues.
The social skills that are missed at the expense of inordinate amounts of time behind a screen can put students at risk. The hours consumed by screen time means time is not being spent on doing other things that might be valuable for development: namely, interacting with family and friends. The back and forth that characterizes a conversation calls upon listening and attending. Those skills are strengthened through daily practice with adults and peers.
New Screen Time Guidelines from Pediatric Experts
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recognizes the importance of putting limits and boundaries around screen time and as such offered specific new guidelines for parents in 2020. The recommendation is that up until 18-24 months old, children should only use screens for video chatting features such as communicating with grandparents or out-of-town relatives. An hour or less of screen time per day is the suggestion for kids ranging in age from 2 to 5. AAP has also developed the Family Media Use Plan for older kids. Banning screens is definitely not the answer; however, working to negotiate limits and boundaries around screen usage is the goal of the Family Media Use Plan. On their healthychildren.org website, AAP also has suggestions on how you can make your own.