At one point or another, many of us have joked about having the attention span of a goldfish. The joke “I’m ADD, attention deficit dis… hey look, a butterfly!” and others like it make light of what is actually an overall culture of distraction.
While there is no doubt that there are individuals who have attention deficit as a biological disorder (about 5 percent of children have attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), the aspect of normative rearing is also to be taken into consideration. A large portion of the problem is nurture, rather than a chemical imbalance.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder has also become an induced disorder.
As The New York Times reported on Dec. 14, 2013, in “The Selling of Attention Deficit Disorder,” the actual incident level of ADHD among Americans has shot up from 600,000 in 1990 to 3.5 million today. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is the most common long-term diagnosis in children, second only to asthma.
Much of the attention deficit that is seen can be attributed to the environment. Instead of concentrating our attention at any one given task, we have are divvying up our time between them all. This is especially true for children, who are growing up in the digital age.
Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization that advocates family issues and studies the effects of media on children, released a study in October 2013 titled “Zero to Eight: Children’s Media Use in America 2013.”
This study found that in families with children 8 years and younger, the ownership of tablets has jumped from 8 percent to 40 percent, the access to smartphones has increased from 52 percent to
75 percent, and there was an increase from 10 percent to 38 percent of children under the age of 2 using a smartphone over a two year period from 2011 to 2013.
On Oct. 28, 2013, the Huffington Post reported that Jim Steyer, the founder and CEO of Common
Sense Media, discussed how disconcerting these results are, especially taking into account the
American Academy of Pediatrics’ warnings against use of digital entertainment for children within that age range and the consequent stunting of development.
Children today are growing up within the age of technology, with smartphones, computers, video games and the Internet. Joan Ganz Cooney Center, an educational nonprofit organization, published a report in 2011 stating nearly 80 percent of children aged 5 and under use the Internet on at least a weekly basis in the U.S..
Parenting plays a key role in this new age of media. Why should kids play outside or engage in other traditional games when they have more attention-grabbing technology at their fingertips?
As Steyer said, smartphones and tablets “…are almost shut-up toys…You’re driving with your kid or you’re trying to get your kid to give you a little time alone, so you just hand them the phone or the iPad and say ‘Here, play this game.’”
Parenting is an involved process, and it requires actually interacting with children. Rather than putting on a DVD in the car for a quiet drive, why not engage the children in the classic road trip games or even having a discussion with them about school, their favorite sport or what they liked about the book they had checked out from the library?
The solution lies in moderation.
Technology has many benefits to it, especially as children age. Rather than reverting to the other extreme and banning all things technology, introduce the concept of limits and basic manners. The
AAP recommended that parents should adopt a “media diet” for their children, which includes a limit of an hour or two of media entertainment and not putting screens in the bedroom.
These are tools that have the potential for real educational benefits, but it is up to the parents to have screen time mean learning time and not idle time.