Monday, April 23, 2012

Kids Interrupted: The Price of Losing Concentration

As a mother, one of my biggest challenges is to finish anything - a thought, a task, or a conversation - before I get interrupted by my sweet, but eager, children. When the kids go to school, it takes real effort to focus on one work project without getting interrupted by email, phone calls, or the temptation to check the latest news stories. Successful concentration and efficiently finishing a task is sometimes hard to come by.

Of course, parents aren't the only ones that have a hard time concentrating. Kids, teenagers, and even babies don't focus well in certain environments. According to the International Communication Association and a report from WebMD, babies and kids ages eight months to eight years who are exposed to large amounts of background TV are at a disadvantage. Their mental tasks are often interrupted by the background sights and sounds, and this, in turn, can lead to language and academic problems.

As I wrote last week, teenagers who allow social technology like Facebook and texting to interrupt them during study time are likely to get lower grades than those who don't. Checking Facebook even just one time per fifteen minutes will likely result in lower grades. (See Facebook: Friend or Foe? by the American Psychological Association.)

Even kids' sleep can be interrupted. Blue lights from computers, TVs, wireless modems, and other gadgets can interfere with sleep (WebMD.com). TV can disturb preschoolers' sleep, depending on the timing and nature of the television program (CNN.com). And being "overwired" in general, through excessive use of video games, cell phones, and Internet use, can cause a child to lose a good night's sleep (Minneapolis Star Tribune).

Continuous breaks in concentration may be detrimental. Some Harvard scientists have even suggested that they are seeing evidence of "shorter attention spans influenced by technology and the constant waves of information washing over us." (The Seattle TimesThis leads to an interesting question: is technology distracting us, or are we to blame for allowing the distraction? David Levy, a professor at the University of Washington's School of Information, points out that its not helpful to think of technology as the perpetrator when it comes to our concentration problems. It's all in how we as a society, and as individuals, use it and allow it to disrupt our tasks.

There are many unanswered questions about how our use of technology interrupts our thought processes and tasks. Psychologists and other social scientists are constantly looking for answers. Regardless of what they discover, managing our family's screen time, background TV, and other distractions can be something very worthwhile to focus on.

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