Wiring for Distraction
In a world filled with screens to play video games, host Minecraft playdates, and complete school work, kids are becoming more and more distracted and disorganized. They might seem engaged and attentive when they play a stimulating video game or watch a Youtube video but then when it comes to completing an assignment, their eyes seem to be everywhere but on the Google Doc questions. If you are a parent or teacher, you know what I am talking about!
If you consider how the brain and body works, it’s constantly trying to manage all the incoming sensory information from the world (most of which is light, images, and sound), and make sense of it! If too much comes in too fast, it’s impossible to filter out what to pay attention to and what to ignore. This leads to everything that is visually appealing (and clickable) to call out to us, wiring us for distraction….And the world of marketing likes it that way. How else can they get your attention?
Read Books Not Ebooks
So why is it harder to focus on a teacher or school reading assignments compared to video games? The obvious answer is that they are not as “fun” and interactive. But even if they were…..consider that we were not wired to read on screens. A book is a whole sensory experience: Turning the pages and touching the book, looking for picture clues paired closely with the words on a single page (not a continuous scroll), and building a spatial map of where the information is located based on how many pages were turned and how thick the book is. The sensory experience of a book is what allows the brain to use sensory cues to recall where information can be found when answering questions about a book and can help slow the reader down/pause between sections. The weight of the book in your hands is grounding and while your eyes can still get tired from reading, they don’t have the added stress of light. And finally, a book doesn’t have a million things going on in the background that we could switch to at a moment’s notice….there is….white space.
Bring Back the White Space
Much of the white space in our daily experiences has been taken away as technology becomes more and more apart of every moment of the day. So why are we surprised that our kids seem disorganized and unfocused? The environment wires them for distraction.
Research shows that creativity is in the “white space” – Think about where you get your best ideas. When you lay in your bed at night? Alone in the car or shower? Meditating?
Now think about whether or not you have created opportunities for white space in your home that your child can access. Do you have rules around screen time where access is limited during play time or in the car? Do you have non-electronic toys that encourage creativity? And do you build forts and tents to “shut out” visual stimulation to promote calmness, creativity, and and breaks from visual stimulation?
Tools to Get Started
Every child needs spaces in their environment to regroup, recover from information overload, and create space for creativity. Sometimes kids need ways to reduce visual stimulation through activities like hiding in tents and going into tunnels. I had one child who called the Regrouping area she built her “Spa.”
I have listed some ideas below of things to add to your cozy spaces at home. Please note these are affiliate links. Check out a few to get started or maybe use your own creativity for some DIY arts and crafts or building projects with your child.
Empower your child by showing them how to set up an environment that helps them feel more regulated and focused in this digital world that wires them for distraction.
by Aubrey Schmalle, OTR/L