Interesting food for thought, maybe there is something in it?

With children experiencing more technology distractions than ever, there has never been a more important time to look at ways to boost their attentiveness

  • Compared to five years ago, there are now more distractions for children in their everyday life which makes it harder than ever to concentrate
  • From the immediacy of social networks to the addictively competitive and instantly rewarding online games to the 24hour availability of TV and video streaming on mobile handsets, it is no wonder that children today cannot easily ‘switch off’ says child psychologist Dr. Richard Woolfson
  • A new scientific report looked at modern-day distractions facing children and traditional vs ‘alternative’ ways of increasing attentiveness; research found that more supportive parenting, watching just 20minutes of a 3D movie and regularly listening to classical music can improve a child’s memory

Children’s attention spans are shorter now than in previous generations largely because they have access to a virtual world at a very young age. Unlike ten years ago, children today are no longer reliant on visiting the local library or waiting for a show to come on television at a scheduled time, children are bombarded with information from multiple sources, throughout their waking hours.

The two-part report looked into distractions facing children today and various ways to provide concentration boosters for children. The report partnered with child psychologist, Dr. Richard Woolfson, who led the field-based study, and Associate Lecturer at Goldsmiths, Patrick Fagan, who led a supporting scientific experiment.

Identified in the report, today children face the following modern-day distractions –

  • 24-7 access to social media – children are social animals and have always had the psychological need to interact with others their own age. The opportunity for constant peer-access through social media has intensified this so it now becomes a distraction
  • Unlimited information found on the web – children can access any topic, any time without significant effort or cost. A child can feel pressure to check multiple sources for accuracy which in turn affects their distraction levels
  • Online gaming – multiple player online games are addictive in nature and ultimately a huge distraction, children have the urge that they ‘just want to get to the next level’ before doing anything else
  • 24-hour viewing – children can watch whatever they want, whenever they want on mobile devices as well as televisions. Homework can take second place
  • Online video streaming – although YouTube can provide a wealth of information, children can feel the need to keep up to date on trends, watching to see what’s happening at all times

With new modern day distractions, there are also traditional and ‘alternative’ ways to boost a child’s attentiveness –

Traditional Alternative
Remove distractions from the home – such as mess, clutter or noise 3D film viewing – watching 20 minutes of a 3D movie can improve learning ability in the short-term
Limit technology time – agree on a daily time limit or gadget free time The Mozart Effect – children who listen to classical music (like Mozart’s) may experience short-term improvement in concentration
More supportive parenting – children continue activity longer with a parent present Omega-3 – introducing foods such as oily fish and spinach that have high levels of Omega-3 may have a positive impact on concentration levels
Intersperse concentration and stimulation –allowing for breaks Regular aerobic exercise – exercise appears to boost the size of the hippocampus and therefore improve learning abilities
Build concentration in small achievablestages – gradually build up concentration time periods Plenty of water – daily hydration may maintain and improve brain functioning and the child’s ability to concentrate

The scientific element of the study analysed the brains of over 60 students aged seven to fourteen years old whilst they watched a 3D movie at Vue Piccadilly. Results found that children experienced twice the cognitive processing speed (2.67) after watching just 20minutes of a 3D movie. Significantly this statistic shows that watching a 3D film before undertaking tasks that require speed of reaction – such as sporting activity or a timed exam – will likely result in enhanced performance according to Fagan.

With the school year in full swing, Fagan comments that “After a significant break away from study, for many young people, it can be difficult to get back into the routine of school work. This study shows that a trip to the cinema will not only provide excitement but can also have a positive impact of their cognitive state.”

He adds: “3D films can play the role of ‘brain training’ games and help to make children ‘smarter’ in the short term. The shortening of response times after watching 3D was almost three times as big as that gained from watching 2D; in other words, 3D helps children process aspects of their environment more quickly. This is likely to be because 3D is a mentally stimulating experience which ‘gets the brain’s juices flowing.”

In the face of so many technological distractions, child psychologist, Dr. Richard Woolfson is encouraged by the research findings. He said: “Today’s children live in an exciting world of infinite information access and constant peer-group connection through social media. This enables them to have a stimulating and fulfilling childhood in which they can learn about anything, connect with anyone, and delve into the virtual world at a moment’s notice. And that’s very positive. 

The down-side, however, is that concentration and attention-span can be reduced because children have become attuned to simultaneous multiple-sources of stimulation, whether it’s the latest text message received, or the chance to get to the next level of their favourite online game. Children now expect to flit from activity to activity in a matter of seconds, leaving them struggling when they need to concentrate for longer, for instance, during a classroom learning experience.

There are plenty of ways parents can help their children boost their concentration. Our research shows that concentration can be improved through watching 3D movies compared to watching 2D movies in an environment where distractions are removed, or through parents just sitting with their child while they engage in an activity. Setting a good example also matters – parents who check their smartphones or laptops during mealtimes or family activities shouldn’t be surprised when their children want to do the same.”

Peter Woodruff, Managing Director, RealD Europe said: “We are constantly exploring and developing new technologies to make the 3D movie-going experience even better for audiences; however, in the meantime, it’s great to see the positive effects that 3D viewing has on cinema-goers.”

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