Multi-media, mini-attention span

Is too much media eroding kids’ attention spans? USA Today quotes psychologist David Walsh, who says, “It’s become harder over the last 10 years to keep kids’ attention. The expectation is to be constantly entertained and, if they’re not entertained, they quickly lose interest.”

The problem intensifies after third grade, when harder course work requires children to concentrate, adds Susan Ratteree, who supervises other public-school psychologists in suburban New Orleans. Diagnoses of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) “have gone through the roof,” she says. Though the disorder is more recognized these days, children seem to be different too, “and many teachers think the fast-paced media is having an effect.”

IQ scores keep rising: Today’s children are mentally agile. But perhaps not good at old-fashioned uni-tasking.

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  1. Bluemount says:

    Jane Healy blasted Seasame Street in the book ‘Endangered Minds’. The book is a lengthy commentary that demonstrates how society has disrupted child development and introduced disability through day care, working parents, media, teaching to test, peer-lead learning and poor attention to child health. The fragile mind of a growing child is prone to permanent disability when the village collaborates.

  2. “Endangered Minds” (see comment above) is an interesting book. Healy argues that TV, by its very nature, changes the mind/brain in adverse ways..and that programs like Sesame Street are particularly harmful, in that they get kids accustomed to dancing letters, etc…which don’t exist in actual books.

    I haven’t studied this matter enough to be totally convinced one way or another…but it does seem like video screens have a strange effect on people. Recently I talked with a flight instructor who was teaching in the new Cessnas, which have large screens for the display of GPS data, etc. He said that some students had difficulty in pulling their eyes away from the screen even during final approach to landing.

  3. So the problem is

    “Day care, working parents, media, teaching to test, peer-lead learning and poor attention to child health. The fragile mind of a growing child is prone to permanent disability when the village collaborates.”

    Hmmm – does that mean that all women should stay home and not let people in the community help raise their children? Perhaps those who would like to be parents shouldn’t work at all. Maybe we should all homeschool and *never* let our kids collaborate with others on projects to avoid the evils of peer-led-learning.

    It seems to me that stay-at-home parents are no less likely to let their kids sit drooling in front of the TV than any other group. The answer seems to be to force children to step away from the screen and do other things. This usually requires a crowbar, cattleprod, or some other sort of severe threat (mean looks, no icecream after dinner etc.) – kids and adults both *like* to be mindlessly entertained.

    It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that if your children spend most of their time parked in front of a screen – watching “educational programs” or playing videogames/computer games – they will be fat, restless, and easily bored by less action-packed tasks like reading, homework, and just wandering around exploring the neighborhood – doing “nothing”.

    Mary Pipher does a good job describing this in her book “In the Shelter of Each Other” where she talks about the media’s impact on the attention spand and expectations of today’s kids. “Amusing Ourselves to Death” is another good exploration of the impact of many forms of media on the attention span of modern day kids and adults.

  4. Steve LaBonne says:

    This is why in my house, there is no cable TV and broadcast TV can only be watched on a small portable which pulls a snowy picture from an indoor rabbit-ears antenna. When my daughter (12) complains about this I just smile. Not coincidentally, she’s always been an avid and (for her age) very advanced reader.

  5. BadaBing says:

    “Hmmm – does that mean that all women should stay home and not let people in the community help raise their children?”

    Yes and maybe. Society was better back in the day when mom stayed home to raise the kids. And what do you mean by “community?” Electronic community coming at you via MTV? Hope not, but there’s really no community anymore, at least as I remember it, when kids respected and listened to neighborhood adults, and said adults felt obliged to keep their youngers in line. By cracky, those were the good ol’ days. Immigration, TV, family disintegration, the onslaught against religion in the public square, court decisions defining deviancy down, and a host of other factors have pretty much destroyed any sense of community as one may have defined it in, say, 1955.

    But that’s just the geezer in me talking, folks. Don’t pay him no mind. I’m sure we’re really all better off today. I mean, look at what a brave new world feminism, diversity, moral relativism, lawyers, and advanced technology hath wroought.

  6. It may be time to re-read some Marshall McLuhan. He had lots of ideas about how media influences thought processes…

  7. Matthew Tabor says:

    It’s great that your daughter is an avid reader, Steve – and I mean that. But I prefer equipping children to deal with challenges – TV, internet, multimedia intrustions – rather than denying them access. I like teaching them to discriminate properly between what is valuable and what isn’t instead of prescribing them certain things and not others.

    Maybe I’m just old-fashioned?

  8. Steve LaBonne says:

    Fear not. She’s quite internet-savvy, couldn’t live without her MP3 player and just loves all the special features on DVDs of her favorite movies- I’m not raising her to be a Luddite. It’s just that I don’t think highly of the overall quality of the content on either broadcast or cable TV (and much of what is of high quality is too adult for a a 12 year old). She will not be a shunner of new media, but a discriminating user.

  9. SuperSub says:

    I’d say that a lot of the problems also have to do with choice. Nowadays, with all the media and toys available for kids, parents often simply allow the children to do what they want as long as they stay out of the parent’s hair. They grow strongly independent from authority, and when thrown into a situation where they are required to do work, they simply choose not to because they feel they have the power to.
    Parents don’t reprimand their children, spank them, send them to bed early, or refuse to buy toys that the children want. Children are indulged and this creates an attitude in adolescence that resents authority.

  10. That would contrast with previous generations in which adolescents simply adored authority, right?

    Here’s what’s going to happen:

    A few kids will do something so spectacularly stupid that they’ll die. This is only different in detail from the spectacularly stupid of previous generations, who also died.

    Most however will do just fine.

    After all, they’ll have the previous generation’s idiotic self-indulgence as a useful guide about how not to behave.

  11. Bluemount says:

    In her book “Rampage,” Katherine S. Newman make the point that kids who are mentally ill are following a media script when they act out a school shooting. Since most additional behaviors that all these kids share, millions of innocent kids across the globe also share, profiling kids isn’t going to help. What is worthy of investigation is revisiting group interaction in education.

    Jane Healy’s comment on single age group is they intensify immaturity. They create the pecking order, even if the teacher can control the pecking or it create a synergy of haves and have nots. When kids help other kids learn, the helper benefits from the effort, the helpee just gets an incompetent teacher and suffers even more. So depending on where a kid ended up in the hierarchy the benefit or problems increased. Parents and even teacher have very little control over how these programs are implemented, although, teachers are more objectively able to write off the children who do worse as disabled, born loosers and not victims of a heirchial system.

    It’s adult time that teaches a child adult behavior. A child has intense power in their own home; the punishments are more fair, consistent and immediate. So are the rewards. When the early message of childhood is adult intimacy, the path to social recognition is more achievable.

  12. Bluemount says:

    Sam Robert’s analysis of the 2000 census, “Who We Are Now”, points out there is an increase in Black men who are stay at home dads, while mom earns a living. Maybe that’s the new direction.