Our learning expert, Bonnie Terry, has developed a phenomenal consulting practice around helping kids with ADD/ADHD issues become successful at school. Terry’s book, Family Strategies for ADD/ADHD Kids, explains the possibility of overcoming distraction which is increasingly commonplace in our modern lifestyles. Children with ADD/ADHD are considered to be especially vulnerable to distraction, having difficulty concentrating on a task at hand and staying focused. I chose to feature this book and Terry’s work because the modern child is also increasingly prone to distraction as our dependence upon cyber-powered tools encourages us to focus less and multi-task more, which can create learning challenges much like ADD symptoms.
Technology conditions the brain to pay attention to information differently than reading. Over time technology conditions us to take in high volumes of information on a very superficial level, and there is a chemical reaction in the brain stimulated by clicking to the next thing – it is kind of an internal reward, a neuro-chemical response; there is a compulsion to keep moving on to the next thing.
Accordingly, below are some of the issues with learning and attention Terry documents in her book that many parents would probably recognize in their children to some degree or another:
- Short attention span
- Poor internal supervision
“Attention Deficit Disorder sounds like you don’t pay attention to anything. The reality is that you pay attention to many things. That is why your attention span is short,” Terry writes. “Your mind switches to another topic and another topic and another topic instead of sticking with the first topic.”
In the non-ADD/ADHD child we would simply call this multi-tasking.
How many of you see your children working with multiple apps, while texting and doing homework and listening to music?
In the network culture, attention is the scarcity
I consider the modern child to be a digital native in as much as she cannot imagine the world without WWW connectivity, just as we could not imagine a world without automobiles or television. In his book, Jump Point: How the Network Culture is Revolutionizing Business (2008), Tom Hayes puts forth a description of the modern child, which he refers to as the bubble generation for commercial purposes – to market to them. (This book was featured in 2010 Winter edition of Banana Moments). I refer to this archetype so that parents can better understand how to relate their authority to govern the cyber-powered home. Below are the major characteristics of the modern child conditioned by the network culture:
- Attention is the scarce resource
- Trust is a highly valued currency – once it is lost it is very difficult to regain; and by the same token they place high value on being trusted (it is often confused with faith)
- Conditioned for authority as a relational experience (“because I said so” does not carry as much gravitas as with previous generations)
- Cyber-powered peer communities quickly become a central point of reference for life
- Texting is the main artery of communication
- Multiple-channels of communication are used (texting/social media) and the communication patterns are dynamic
So the key to parenting the cyber-powered child is cultivating a relationship characterized by open communication. And the key to open communication is capturing your child’s attention in ways that inspire rapport and trust.
Parents are their children’s first teachers
One of the incorrect assumptions parents make is that kids know how to learn. Not true. In order to learn, children must be taught discipline – especially to overcome learning challenges. “Children learn by hearing, seeing and doing,” Terry said, “So it is important for parents to model for kids how to talk with teachers, especially when your child is unhappy or struggling.” Children need to witness how to successfully bring a problem to the attention of the teacher without being defensive. Assume good intent on the part of the teacher and ask for help.
In this regard, children are emerging executives and the extent to which we can encourage and guide them to take charge of the things they can and not be embarrassed or humiliated to ask for help, the less frustrated and vulnerable the learning experience will be. According to Terry the executive function involves six steps for staying organized:
- Analyze a task
- Plan how to address a task
- Organize steps to carry out the task
- Develop timelines around the task
- Adjust or shift the steps, if needed to complete the task
- Complete the task in a timely way
In addition, Terry offers tips for parents to help children focus and be attentive to academic tasks at home:
- Breaks. After 25 minutes, take a five minute break. Breaks are important, especially for the ADD/ADHD brain.
- Standing. Some things are easier to accomplish while standing, such as memorizing multiplication tables. Moving hands, shifting feet, breathing.
- Hydration. Very important for the brain, especially while doing homework.
- Deep breathing. Make sure that during breaks you are breathing properly.
- Exercises. Crossing arms to touch ear lobes. Deep knee bends, jumping jacks, etc.
To order Bonnie Terry’s books, go to BonnieTerryLearning.
When your child is struggling to perform at school
Terry encourages parents to help your child understand that “smart people ask for help” when they do not understand something or seem to have difficulty performing. “We we can change the brain. We can transform via neuroplasty,” Terry said. “So it is important to identify the root cause of learning problems and not jump to conclusions that it is attitude.” According to Terry, some of the conditions contributing to learning problems besides ADD/ADHD might include perception problems such as dyslexia or a child may simply be gifted.
Regardless of a diagnosis, one of the things Terry encourages parents to consider is how the circumstances of the distracted behavior, non-follow through or inability to focus, might be related to parenting style or other situations which trigger behavior. Is your child focusing at home better than at school? In single parent homes or blended families is the behavior different? What about diet and nutrition? Sleep schedules? Is your child up at night texting and engaged in social media?
No matter how much the social landscape changes with technology, one thing remains universally true: people don’t care about what you know until they know you care. Emotional security is essential to learning. So in order to accept our instruction, children’s emotional needs must be met, which Terry breaks out into six basic areas:
- Autonomy – a sense of control over self as in ownership and responsibility
- Love – feeling valued and cared for
- Self-esteem – feeling good about yourself
To order Bonnie Terry’s books, go to BonnieTerryLearning.
Proceed to next article: Anatomy of a parent’s heart: How to care for your child in the social network
Joanna Jullien is an author, educator and speaker on strengthening the parent-child relationship in a cyber powered world. She a mother of two grown sons, the author of The Authority In Me: The Power of Family Life in the Network Culture, produces The Sacramento Cyber Safety Examiner column on Examiner.com, and is the CyberParenting advisor on The Fish 103.9FM. Her new book, A Google World in the Garden of Eden: Five Family-Safe Strategies for Texting and Social Media is now available on Kindle; download your free Kindle reader for iPad, notebooks or smartphones.
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