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Kids, Boredom, and Attention

June 4, 2011

I have a personal theory of why ADHD and attention difficulties are so prevalent today.  Before explaining it, though, I would like to say that I think that ADHD and like disorders are the result of a myriad of factors, both environmental and biological, and that I think this theory explains only a part of the occurrence of ADHD.  (I am also using the phrase ADHD as a catch-all for a vast spectrum of attention difficulties and disorders simply for ease of typing.)

My theory is actually quite simple.  I think that a part of the problem of attention difficulties like ADHD is that children’s environment simply aren’t stimulating the development of attention.  This is where the catch-22 comes in, I think that children’s environments are, in fact, too stimulating and therefore the development of attention is not stimulated.  Yes, a child sitting and pushing buttons on an electric toy appears to be having their attention stimulated.   After all, that child might sit and push those buttons for quite awhile.  This is not, however, true.  The child’s brain is not doing the work of keeping the child’s attention focused, rather the toy is doing all the work.  Thus, even though the child might on the surface be paying attention to the toy for an extended period of time, in fact the child’s brain is being quite passive.  The same is true for TV and, to some extent, video games.  The child might appear to be focusing their attention, but in reality the brain is being passive and not developing the capacity for active attention.

The capacity for attention is only developed when the brain is the driving force behind a child’s focus.  When a child’s brain is coming up the ideas, stories, actions, or behaviors that is when the child is developing the capacity for paying attention.  A toddler sitting and stacking blocks, flipping through the pages of a book, scribbling with crayons, or do any relative minor task for even just a few moments is doing more for the brain’s development of active attention than a child sitting for thirty minutes hitting the buttons on an electric toy.

This theory is why I get so happy when I see posts like this one about limiting TV and forcing kids to be “bored”.  When the TV, video games, and other electronics are taken away from children their brains are forced to become actively engaged in choosing, directing a sustaining play, all of which requires active attention.  Children may not like it at first, but eventually they, and their brains, will learn to focus and play.

One Comment leave one →
  1. June 4, 2011 5:04 pm

    It’s like any sport, hobby, or muscle building exercise, we develop it with practice. I agree, ADHD affects brains for many reasons but there is some good research out there showing how it’s happening because of pushing academics too early. (Different Learners by Jane Healy comes to mind.)

    Thanks for mentioning Imagination Soup – I’m so glad to find your blogs, too!

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