ADHD only getting worse here
“Mom, I need to read two chapters for a test tomorrow,” your eighth-grader declares. He shuts the door to his bedroom and for the next 45 minutes at least three different technology devices compete for his attention as he bounces between texts, music and stops to look things up on the web “real quick.” Media multitasking is the term for this and though it has become the norm for many of us today, it’s no wonder more than 10 percent of American children have been officially diagnosed as having attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder.
However, an article on ADHD in Psychology Today is making its rounds on the net, bringing the topic back to the forefront in parenting communities lately. “Why French Children Don’t Have ADHD” argues that ADHD is practically unheard of in France, with less than 1 percent of French children formally diagnosed. Why is this? First of all, ADHD is not viewed as a biological disorder there, so drugs like Ritalin and Adderall aren’t doled out like they are in the United States. Instead, the author says the French view ADHD as an outcome of a child’s environment — with discipline and nutrition being the chief culprits. The author argues that French parents are more authoritative than American parents as a whole and their children don’t eat as much junk as our kids do either.
Another factor that wasn’t mentioned, but is worth noting, is technology. Parents’ main concerns in the digital age surround Internet privacy and safety, or they worry technology will replace a child’s social interactions.
But the availability of technology in so many forms and media multitasking are other reasons we are becoming a scattered, ADHD nation. Smart phones, tablets, laptops and video games allow us to hopscotch between Facebook, Instagram, apps, games and websites — the perpetual rabbit hole in “Alice in Wonderland.” And kids today don’t know any different.
A recent study from the Institute of Psychiatry at the University of London suggests that multitasking numerous devices at once causes our IQ to fall 10 points, equivalent to missing an entire night’s sleep, when trying to perform deep thinking such as studying for an exam. It shouldn’t be a surprise then that teens today are taking “study drugs” like Ritalin and Adderall not only to take important exams, such as the SAT, but just to focus enough to do homework.
In 2008 Nicholas Carr first brought the issue of how the digital age affects our thinking as a culture when he published the article “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” Beginning with his own story, he explains how he lost the ability to concentrate since he switched to reading on the web years earlier. He argues that the immediacy and short chunks of information today have made us impatient when it comes to heavier, more thoughtful concentration on a single task. Imagine how it is for kids; they have never known life without all the constant pings, text chatter and noise.
There have always been new advances that older generations have worried would “rot kids’ brains.” Carr points out that even in Plato’s Phaedrus, Socrates lamented the development of writing as something that would erase the knowledge carried only inside the human mind up until then.
We have seen how technology has advanced society. However, at no other time have as many mediums been combined as today. It’s not the devices that are the problem; it’s the constancy of them and our brains aren’t evolved enough to process them all at once.
According to a 2010 Kaiser Family Foundation Study, only about three in 10 young people say they have rules about how much time they can spend using technology. But when parents do set limits, children spend three hours less time with media than those without any media rules.
There is hope. Parents can step in and help kids plan and prioritize by setting limits on technology. Have a technology cut-off time at night, at least an hour before bedtime. Have them do something sedentary or quiet that relaxes them like reading, which doesn’t stimulate the brain, instead. For older children, talk about the effects media multitasking has on their brains and why they should physically remove devices from their bedrooms or surroundings at certain times of the day and at bedtime.
Julie Samrick is a resident of El Dorado Hills and the mother of four young children.
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