Tag Archive for: Decrease Screen time

Attention Spans in the Age of Technology

It seems like kids today are not as good at concentration as we might remember being at their age. If your child seems to be having trouble focusing or finishing simple tasks without getting distracted, you may be wondering if it’s because of a mental health condition, such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). It’s natural to be concerned when you see your child struggling. Before jumping to conclusions, though, take some time to survey your child’s environment. Today’s world is vastly different from the one we grew up in.

In the current age of fast-paced modern technology and social media, it’s no wonder that adults—let alone children—are unable to focus their attention easily. Think about how much stimulation we’re exposed to daily, and how much it impacts your world. Between smartphones, iPods, email, TV, DVRs, the internet, social media and more, our brain’s neurons are firing on all cylinders all day long.

Our children are experiencing the same stimulation, while developmentally they’re also learning how to organize information and pay attention. Bombarded with excessive stimulation and distraction, they are expected to focus on subjects that may not hold their interest the same way other stimulating, instantly gratifying subjects do. The brain is trained at a young age to multitask to such a high degree that it is often incapable of focusing on one task or thought at a time. In 2010, the Kaiser Family Foundation found that of students ages 8 to 18, half of them watch TV, surf the internet or use some other form of media while doing their homework.

Dr. Richard Restak’s book The New Brain: How the Modern Age Is Rewiring Your Mind covers this topic in depth. He discusses how we are all capable of reaching a breaking point where we lose our ability to focus due to overstimulation. This is what could be happening with many of our children. A child who is seen as “having difficulty focusing” or “bright, but not working to his full potential” may be unable to keep up with the demands of a stimulus-filled environment.

ADHD Or Technology Overload?

I know that in my own practice over the last few years, electronic usage has greatly contributed to various difficulties for my adolescent clients. These include problems with executive function, such as concentration and focus, as well as insomnia, mood swings and anxiety. However, there is a distinction between a child who is struggling with ADHD and a child who is struggling to focus due to technological overload.

Children living with ADHD need mental stimulation and arousal, which is why they are given stimulants to help them focus in the classroom. They can focus easily on certain things such as video games and television because these things provide them with instant gratification, are thrilling and dynamic, and give them a “hit” of dopamine that keeps them enthralled.

On the other hand, children who simply spend large amounts of time with their electronics have trained their brain to receive heightened stimulation and the accompanying dopamine boosts. They are therefore susceptible to similar symptoms as a child with ADHD—as he or she may also begin to have difficulty focusing on classroom instruction or chores.

ADHD is the most commonly diagnosed behavioral disorder for kids in the U.S., with at least 4.5 million diagnoses among children under age 18. In 2011, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that the prevalence of ADHD in children ages 4 to 17 years was 11%. These findings represent a dramatic increase from more than 30 years ago, when the rate of ADHD was estimated at between 3% and 5%. What is more concerning is that the prevalence of ADHD increased by about 35% from 2003 to 2011 alone.

Does this mean 11% of our children have always had ADHD and we’ve just never noticed? Or are we overdiagnosing what is really simple technology overload and exhaustion? Before putting your child on any medications, try these few simple modifications to your child’s environment.

Monitor “Screen Time”

How much time does your child spend on a smartphone, the computer or watching TV? Those screens are overloaded with information, movement, color and hyper-stimulation. Set strict daily time limits, such as 30-45 minutes a day, after homework and chores are done. Once your child reaches the limit, spend time with your child. Try reading a book together, painting, taking a walk, baking/cooking or playing a board game, or help him or her find a hobby.

Relax The Mind

Teach your children relaxation and deep breathing to increase focus and mind control. When they are doing homework, try playing soft music in the background at a low volume to help their brain learn to focus. You could also engage in mindfulness while engaging in ordinary activities, purposefully focusing your attention together on your tasks.

Make The Bedroom A Stimulus-Free Zone

A lot of teens relax before bed by texting on their phones, which causes sleep deprivation and fatigue. Sound sleep is one of the most effective tools for improving attention and focus. Take the TV, computer and smartphone out of the bedroom. Set a strict time for your child to wind down and help them by lowering noise levels, dimming lights and doing relaxing activities.

Teach Delayed Gratification

Nowadays, kids want immediate satisfaction, and when they don’t get it, they lose focus and attention, and grow impatient. Delayed gratification is a life skill that will help your child persevere and remain focused on goals for which the returns are not immediately experienced. It is an essential ability that will help your child gain success in life. Identify both short- and long-term goals with your child, and encourage your child to work toward them.

Remember that while these interventions may be met with resistance, the long-term benefits—both intellectually and emotionally—have been found to contribute to improved focus, attention, sleep and mood.

Dr. Jyothsna Bhat is a licensed clinical psychologist with a private practice in Newtown, Pa., and Princeton, N.J. Learn more at www.bhatpsych.com.


5 No-Phone Zones for Parents and Kids Alike

Places like the dinner table can be designated phone-free for the whole family.
Credit Marie D. De Jesus/Houston Chronicle, via Associated Press

 How can we get our kids to put down their phones when they see us on ours so often?

A 2016 survey by Common Sense Media, a nonprofit children’s advocacy and media ratings organization, asked almost 1,800 parents of children aged 8 to 18 about screen time and electronic media use by the parents. The average amount of time that parents spent with screen media of all kinds (computers, TVs, smartphones, e-readers) every day: 9 hours and 22 minutes. And on average, only an hour and 39 minutes of that was work-related; 7 hours and 43 minutes were personal.

Maybe that’s one reason you hear more and more often the recommendation that families delineate specific screen-free times and places in their lives. James P. Steyer, the chief executive of Common Sense Media, cited the idea of “sacred spaces” advocated by Sherry Turkle, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and author of the 2015 book “Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age.”

It’s just as important to regulate our own use of devices and put them aside for screen-free periods as it is to ask our children to disconnect. And it certainly adds spice to family life if children understand that the same rules apply for all ages: that Dad will get grief for surreptitiously checking his phone under the dinner table and Mom has to park hers in the designated recharging zone for the night just as the children do.

Here are my own top five sacred spaces, but I’ll tell you frankly that they’re very much “aspirational” for me; I have a long way to go before I’m a good example.

1. In the Bed

Keeping TVs out of children’s bedrooms and bedtimes is an old pediatric recommendation from back in the day when TV was the screen we worried about most. Now we also stress keeping smartphones out of their beds, but many of us as adults also struggle with this imperative, which pretty much everyone agrees is critical for improved sleep and therefore improved health. Those of us with children out of the home, of course, tell ourselves that the phone has to come into the bedroom in case a child needs to call — but the phone can sleep on the other side of the room, not on the night stand.

2. At the Table

If the family gathers around the dinner table, basic table manners dictate no digital participants. And yes, that means parents get in trouble if they lapse, and you don’t get to use the old let-me-just-Google-this-important-and-educational-fact strategy to settle family debates and questions of history, literature, or old movie trivia, because everyone knows what else you’ll do once you take out the phone.

3. Reading a Book

I don’t read books well if I’m toggling back and forth to email. That’s O.K. for other kinds of reading, maybe, but not for books. If you made a New Year’s resolution to read more books or you’re going to try for family reading time, you can allow e-readers, but you might keep other screens at a distance.

4. In the Outdoors

It’s definitely worth picking some outdoor experiences that are going to be screen-free. One of the dangers of carrying our screens with us wherever we go is that wherever we go, the landscape is the same — it’s a conscious decision to go outside and see what there is to see, even if that means losing the chance to take a photo now and then. It may also work to put phones on airplane mode for travel and family activities, so they can be used only as cameras – or for maps or emergency calls if needed.

5. In the Car

This is a tougher one for many families, since screens in the car can be so helpful on long rides, especially with siblings in proximity. But time in the car can also be remarkably intimate family time (yes, I know, not always in a good way). Some of the most unguarded conversations of the middle school and adolescent years take place when a parent is chauffeuring, so it’s probably worth trying for some designated screenless miles. I assume that I don’t have to say that the driver should not be looking at a screen — but the parent riding shotgun in the front also has to play by the rules.

Mr. Steyer said his organization’s survey showed that parents are paying attention to the ways that their children use screen media, and that they see it as their responsibility to monitor and regulate their children’s use of technology. In fact, two-thirds of the parents felt that such monitoring was more important than respecting their children’s privacy.

Parents’ role has to include awareness and also a willingness to “use media and technology together whenever you can,” Mr. Steyer said; “it’s good for parents to watch and play and listen with their kids and experience media and technology with them and ask them questions about what they see and hear.”

In a new policy on screen media use by school-age children and adolescents released last October, the American Academy of Pediatrics suggested that families develop and regularly update a family media use plan, using an online tool that takes into account the individual family’s patterns and goals and lets you designate screen-free times and places. That can be helpful for screen-loving children and for their screen-loving parents as well.