It’s Hard to Stay Focused

It’s hard to stay focused in the 21st century. Paying attention to only one thing at a time is becoming increasingly difficult for both kids and adults. Many experts have questioned whether the increased diagnosis rates of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are the result of our overly stimulating, distractible culture, as up to 11% of children are being diagnosed with ADHD in the United States. There is little doubt that too many activities and outside distractions can divert one’s attention from a particular task at hand, making multitasking actually impossible. These aspects of 21st century life are presented in a recent ad by the auto maker Chevrolet that focuses on distracted driving. A group of “real people, not actors” is asked to watch a short film that simulates driving on a road and instructed, “No matter what, I need you to stay focused.” I won’t tell you what happens, but it is very funny and only 30 seconds long, so watch it.

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The main the point of the ad is to help people understand Chevy’s new safety feature, which allows drivers to return a text message response “at the touch of a button” without becoming distracted on the road. But when you think about it, a car-based alert system where you must listen to a text and give a response is just one more thing to do while driving. Although safety experts might argue that we should make all cell-phone use illegal in cars, realistically this is not going to happen. In a similar fashion, we cannot eliminate screen-time activities for our kids but are better off finding ways to integrate them in a healthy fashion.

People will continue to have cell phones with them in the car, and unfortunately, some will choose to text while driving, which is unequivocally dangerous. So having a hands-on system that is only modestly distracting may be the best we can do in today’s world. In a similar fashion, finding realistic strategies that can minimize the distractibility of technology on the attention of 21st century kids is worthwhile.

Here are a few very simple strategies that might help:

1. Restrict technologies during meals so that cell phones and mobile devices are not invited to the table with family members.

2. Have bedtimes for technology so that other activities need to be part of early morning and late night routines. If necessary, turn off the Internet for certain hours in your household.

3. Have occasional non-technology days. This may be very difficult for adults whose jobs wedded to the Internet. This could be as simple as  8- to 12-hour  technology vacations once or twice a month.

4. Have monthly social media vacations. Choose a social media platform to eliminate one day a month. Make a family decision that you will not text, make calls, Facebook, Instagram, or use email on a selected day. What is interesting about this technique is the way it varies generationally. For example, while I use texting every day I would not miss it as much as email, but for my kids, texting is a lifeline to others.

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