Given the great technology and communication advances of the last few years, it is no wonder that the lack of ability for young people to concentrate concerns parents, students and teachers. Sure, we shouldn’t overlook other factors, such as an excessive number of extra curricular activities, home chores, and other responsibilities, all of which may have an influence. But today, I want to focus on how technology impacts students’ ability to focus.
TAKING THE EASY ROAD
For starters, the Internet has changed the way in which students study. Not only are students Googling the information they need and copying and pasting it onto their papers, but they are also constantly posting questions in public forums looking for answers that are not always accurate. Two examples from Yahoo Answers reveal the current way of attacking homework: “I have no time to read the book 13 Reasons Why. Can someone give me a plot synopsis?” and “Can someone tell me how Hitler manipulated democracy to obtain power?” Rather than doing their own research, students trust the answers of strangers.
There are plenty of sites that offer synopses of books and complete lessons on various subjects, which can be very good to help clarify doubts. However, they are not good as a replacement for studying. This path down the easiest road favors laziness over effort and responsibility. It also fails to teach students the concentration required to read a book and to pick the key elements to write a synopsis. (It’s worth underscoring that many high schools and colleges are using specialized software to identify text that has been copied and pasted from the Internet, and they punish students who present them as their own.)
The nature of the Internet and the accessibility of electronics, such as smart phones, iPods, iPads, etc,. makes it easy to do several things at once. Kids can chat with friends online while they study, listen to music with their headphones on, and send text messages—or in some cases, all at the same time. Science has proven that the brain can only execute one activity well at a time. So, when your kid is doing several things, the focus alternates between one activity and the next, is it any wonder they make more mistakes?
REDUCED ATTENTION SPAN
Smart phones and cell phones have created the expectation that we should all be available 24/7. The direct consequence is that we interrupt whatever we are doing to respond to the ping sound or the ringing phone. The problem is that when your children interrupt the paper they are writing to send a message or talk on the phone it takes them a while to get back into the paper and it makes concentration difficult. Some research has shown that it can take up to 20 minutes to refocus on one’s original task. A few text messages, and you can see how quickly behind a student can get.
WHAT TO DO
There are no magic solutions, but here’s what you, as a parent, can do to help. Try some of these proven methods:
1. Make it a rule that your children turn off all electronics while they study.
2. Encourage them to study without background noise.
3. Make sure they have their snacks and water at their fingertips so they don’t have to leave their desks to get it.
4. Keep the household noise and activities to a minimum during your children’s study time.
5. Make it a rule that kids will not answer phone calls from friends during homework hours.
6. Remove electronics from the bedroom at night so they get enough sleep.
7. Encourage kids to adopt a game that requires concentration skills—such as chess, Sudoku, or building robots—to help them expand their attention span.