ADHD diagnoses have increased each year to the point that classrooms often include one or more students who have a formal diagnosis. The Center for Disease Control states that “3%-7% of school-aged children have ADHD. However, studies have estimated higher rates in community samples.”
Even without an ADHD diagnosis, there are many children who have trouble focusing on their work in the classroom. Our heavy reliance on video rather than the spoken and written word is a likely a contributor to the inability to focus. Let me explain.
The Brain Must Construct Images from Words
When we read or tell a story to a child, or when he reads the printed words for himself, his brain forms a visual picture. If I say to a fourth grade classroom, “The boy was running down the snowy hillside with his dog, trying to stay ahead of a large avalanche,” each child creates a visual image in his head. In a classroom of twenty, there are that many different pictures. The dog is one of many possible breeds. The boy may or may not wear a cap. The avalanche may have rocks in it or snow only. Whatever is visualized, each child’s brain worked to construct the details of the picture.
ADHD-Like Symptoms from Lack of Brain-Training
When I show that same class a video clip of the boy running down the hill, the children’s brains don’t have to work to construct pictures. They need only look at the screen. If a child is reared from an early age with a steady diet of screen time, his brain skips the important training in how to create visual pictures from words.
Later, in about third grade, he is asked to focus on printed or spoken words. That task makes him uncomfortable and bored, because he is unable to get visual images for the words that are coming into his brain. He squirms in his seat, talks to his neighbor, or looks around the classroom. Parents soon hear from the teacher that their child “will not stay on task.”
Begin Now to Limit Screen Time
Children need the majority of their learning to come from spoken and printed words. Don’t be disheartened if your child has been watching videos more than reading. Begin now to restrict screen time and increase reading, storytelling, and game playing. Children who read and listen for most of their preschool learning will have the “brain training” needed to be good students.
Questions: Is screen time a problem in your home? If so, how much are you restricting it? How hard is it to put limits on the time? Since the American Academy of Pediatricians recommends no screen time for children under two, how do you do that for your two-year-old when there are older siblings?