Too Many Distractions To Concentrate?
By Carolyn Jabs
Concentration is crucial to success at school and work. Now, educators are worried that the ability to concentrate is eroding under the relentless barrage of random messages from cell phones and social media. Brain research from UCLA’s Karin Foerde and Barbara Knowlton shows the hippocampus, the part of the brain devoted to storing and recalling information, isn’t engaged when a person is distracted.
The beginning of the school year is a great time to establish routines promoting concentration—even for children who love the distraction of media.
One of the best ways to help children grasp the value of attention is to give them yours. When you’re doing something with your child, don’t let your cell phone or work distract you. Focus on what your child is saying or what you are doing together. Allocate time for phone calls, television and how long you’ll spend on social media websites.
Children who grow up with the benefits of parental attention and limits on attention-draining activities will begin to understand that attention, like money, is a finite resource. Try some of these ideas to get the message across.
Budget tech time.
Obviously, video games, social networking and other interactive pastimes have an important place in the lives of children. However, they shouldn’t be available 24/7. Establish tech-free times for homework or to engage in other activities requiring concentration. Encourage older children to post an away message or status to avoid the temptation of missing something. Get creative and design a humorous sign stating “Tech-free Time” to minimize interruptions from other family members. Moreover, turn off those cell phones so you can actually write a thank you note, balance the checkbook or read a report.
Create a tech-free workspace.
Ensure your child has access to a workspace where the tools needed for schoolwork. Supplies such as paper, dictionaries, pens and highlighters should be nearby. Make sure this space is not near possible distractions such as video games, snacks or a television. Good lighting and the proper chair are always essential, but the internet is not. Children will protest that they need it or they can’t possibly do their homework, but that usually isn’t the full story. Work such as math problems and reading will actually go faster if the child is away from the screen. Keep in mind though that many school systems do post assignments and test scores online so allow time to obtain this information if it is the practice of their school.
Most adults know when they are sharpest during the day. Encourage your child to experiment with different study times. Some children will be most able to focus right after school when the lessons of the day are still fresh. Others will do better after a snack, a sports practice or even a session of social networking. Others may be able to wiz through homework in half the time if they get up early and do it first thing in the morning. Help your child identify and protect the time when he or she is most able to concentrate.
Creates chunks of work.
Although it may be obvious to parents, students often don’t know how to divide homework into manageable portions. The idea of writing an entire report may be paralyzing. Older students may do better with a timetable that includes incentives such as 30 minutes of homework earns 10 minutes of social networking. Just be sure to set a timer so homework resumes after ten minutes.
Even under optimal conditions, your child’s mind may wander. This is normal, especially for middle school students who are studying independently for the first time. You can use a simple technique to help your child stretch out periods of attention. While reading or doing other work, keep a 3x5 card close and make a mark each time attention wanders. If the random thought is important, make a note. Then, remind your child of the task at hand. Concentration requires practice and over time, his or her ability to focus will improve.