Age of Distraction: Why It’s Crucial for Students to Learn to Focus

| December 5, 2013 | 130 Comments
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Digital classroom tools like computers, tablets and smartphones offer exciting opportunities to deepen learning through creativity, collaboration and connection, but those very devices can also be distracting to students. Similarly, parents complain that when students are required to complete homework assignments online, it’s a challenge for students to remain on task. The ubiquity of digital technology in all realms of life isn’t going away, but if students don’t learn how to concentrate and shut out distractions, research shows they’ll have a much harder time succeeding in almost every area.

“The real message is because attention is under siege more than it has ever been in human history, we have more distractions than ever before, we have to be more focused on cultivating the skills of attention,” said Daniel Goleman, a psychologist and author of Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence and other books about social and emotional learning on KQED’s Forum program.

“Children I’m particularly worried about because the brain is the last organ of the body to become anatomically mature. It keeps growing until the mid-20s,” Goleman said. If young students don’t build up the neural circuitry that focused attention requires, they could have problems controlling their emotions and being empathetic.

“It’s about using the devices smartly but having the capacity to concentrate as you need to, when you want to.”

“The circuitry for paying attention is identical for the circuits for managing distressing emotion,” Goleman said. The area of the brain that governs focus and executive functioning is known as the pre-frontal cortex. This is also the part of the brain that allows people to control themselves, to keep emotions in check and to feel empathy for other people.

“The attentional circuitry needs to have the experience of sustained episodes of concentration — reading the text, understanding and listening to what the teacher is saying — in order to build the mental models that create someone who is well educated,” Goleman said. “The pulls away from that mean that we have to become more intentional about teaching kids.” He advocates for a “digital sabbath” everyday, some time when kids aren’t being distracted by devices at all. He’d also like to see schools building exercises that strengthen attention, like mindfulness practices, into the curriculum.

The ability to focus is a secret element to success that often gets ignored. “The more you can concentrate the better you’ll do on anything, because whatever talent you have, you can’t apply it if you are distracted,” Goleman said. He pointed to research on athletes showing that when given a concentration test, the results accurately predicted how well each would perform in a game the next day.

Perhaps the most well known study on concentration is a longitudinal study conducted with over 1,000 children in New Zealand by Terrie Moffitt and Avshalom Caspi, psychology and neuroscience professors at Duke University. The study tested children born in 1972 and 1973 regularly for eight years, measuring their ability to pay attention and to ignore distractions. Then, the researchers tracked those same children down at the age of 32 to see how well they fared in life. The ability to concentrate was the strongest predictor of success.

“This ability is more important than IQ or the socio economic status of the family you grew up in for determining career success, financial success and health,” Goleman said. That could be a problem for students in the U.S. who often seem addicted to their devices, unable to put them down for even a few moments. Teachers say students are unable to comprehend the same texts that generations of students that came before them could master without problems, said Goleman. These are signs that educators may need to start paying attention to the act of attention itself. Digital natives may need help cultivating what was once an innate part of growing up.

“It’s very important to amp up the focus side of the equation,” Goleman said. He’s not naive about the role digital devices play in society today, but he does believe that without managing how devices affect kids better they’ll never learn the attention skills they’ll need to succeed in the long term.

“There’s a need now to teach kids concentration abilities as part of the school curriculum,” Goleman said. “The more children and teens are natural focusers, the better able they’ll be to use the digital tool for what they have to get done and then to use it in ways that they enjoy.”

Some argue that the current generation of students grew up with digital devices and are much better at multitasking than their parents. But the idea of multitasking is a myth, Goleman said. When people say they’re  “multitasking,” what they are really doing is something called “continuous partial attention,” where the brain switches back and forth quickly between tasks. The problem is that as a student switches back and forth between homework and streaming through text messages, their ability to focus on either task erodes. That trend is less pronounced when the actions are routine, but it could have significant implications for how deeply a student understands a new concept.

“If you have a big project, what you need to do every day is have a protected time so you can get work done,” Goleman said. For his part, when he’s writing a book, Goleman goes to his studio where there is no email, no phone, nothing to distract him. He’ll work for several hours and then spend designated time responding to people afterwards.

“I don’t think the enemy is digital devices,” Goleman said. “What we need to do is be sure that the current generation of children has the attentional capacities that other generations had naturally before the distractions of digital devices. It’s about using the devices smartly but having the capacity to concentrate as you need to, when you want to.”

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  • Joe Slevin

    Excellent. I played ‘Buddy can you spare a dime’ to 15 year olds. I then left the history to discuss their inability to concentrate. My book ‘Succeed at Secondary’ is a roadmap for parents to work with children on this and other ‘learning attitudes’.

  • Leslie Hislop

    This article speaks to the issue that even though children now have access to so much information, they seem to be struggling more to complete tasks. Hmmm I wonder ………

  • Donohue Shortridge

    Two strategies come to mind that may assist students in learning to focus; one is more time in ungroomed nature either participating in a guided observation or merely wandering; nothing like nature to draw in all parts of the mind and heart. The other is student passion for the educational content; self-motivation fosters concentration, thus a curriculum like Montessori with its student interest driven pedagogy fosters concentration.

    • Gerry Roe

      Yes, if you can get the kids at a young age and get teachers trained, Montessori is a great solution. Which is why we need to push for the Montessori model, probably with some updates, for early ed.

    • 76tarabytes

      not all kids fare well in montessori style. some kids need good structure but with interesting material that would help keep them focused.

    • Heike Larson

      Montessori is really great at fostering focus. Here’s a blog post I wrote for our Montessori school on just that topic: http://www.leportschools.com/blog/focusing-on-focus/

  • Tim Seldin

    Dr. Goleman points out that the brain develops slowly, not reaching maturity until the 20s. In addition, we should keep in mind how sensitive the brain is to stimulation in the first six years of life. Maria Montessori described these early year as the period of the absorbent mind, with the very young child being influenced profoundly and unconsciously by those things with which he or she comes into contact. Donohue Shortridge mentions the ways in which strongly development early childhood programs like Montessori foster focus. The value of a carefully ordered environment, with everything in its place and designed to facilitate a child’s development of independence, and inner sense of order, and ability to concentrate his/her attention fully in the unhurried natural pace of a very young child who is exploring things without adult or digital stimulation deserves much greater attention. our children tend to be bombarded by stimulation and distractions. Throughout the childhood their time will tend to be spent in settings that make it difficult to learn how to concentrate and focus. Whether we call it Montessori or by some other name, we really do need to focus of the hidden nature and needs of children at every age level, and design schools (and hopefully homes as well) around those things that tend to lead to deep learning that is retained and leads to the lifelong ability to master new skills, information, and ideas with facility and confidence. Learning how to learn is the secret to success. It begins by uncluttering the mind and learning how to ‘be present in the moment.’

    • AZ Boy

      One item I did not see in the responses is where are the parents?
      I do not feel it is correct to put all of the responsibility on the educators when it should be on mom and dad.
      We have 2 sons with 2 children each. The education level is the same as the boys and their spouses are college graduates. The point is one set of parents give their children as well as themselves all of today’s electronic distractions. The other set of parents do not and control the distractions. Who has the kids that are doing better (the kids are the same age)? The 2 without all of the distractions are far ahead of the other 2.
      We are 70 years old and have lived is several cities. Our jobs allowed us to observe parents of all economic levels. It is obvious the children that do not have all of the electronic toys are fairing, in todays world, much better than the ones that have the toys.
      Again there is enough blame to go around but the biggest group to fail today’s youth are the PARENTS.

  • Chandra Fernando

    This is a great article! It brings out several areas of importance to children’s patterns of learning and their ability to concentrate in particular.
    Concentration develops when children are intrinsically motivated towards learning a skill or concept. This motivation in turn is related to interest, freedom, adequate time for exploration, and a supportive and nurturing environment.
    It is interesting to note Dr. Coleman’s statement on the correlation between the circuitry for paying attention and the circuitry for managing “distressing emotions” which are both controlled by the pre-frontal cortex. As Tim pointed out, Montessori teachers have long recognized the importance of these factors and consistently guide children in the process of learning how to learn.

  • Gerry Roe

    “…how well they faired in life.” Wrong homophone. Should be “…how well they fared…..” Wouldn’t nitpick, buy you know, education blog.

    • Katrina Schwartz

      Fixed! Thanks for the catch. -Katrina

    • John Smith

      “Buy you know?” No, you probably shouldn’t nitpick.

    • DollySosa

      but you know …

  • ira_david_socol

    One more article promoting religion with faux research. The “focus” the author and those she quotes wants is the Calvinist Church ideal http://speedchange.blogspot.com/2013/05/the-church-task-believers.html and they create “research” out of thin air to prove their point about “distraction” as they desperately try to hold on to the advantages one group has had during the Gutenberg/Industrial Age.

    For those who prefer actual research, brain-based research, you can go all the way back to Montessori’s Glass Classroom 100 years ago to find that the schoolroom, Calvinist, concept of “focus” is nonsense. A classist, racist charade designed to limit which children succeed.

    Thankfully, the world is moving faster than the religious elite represented here, and their argument has already been lost, by their increasingly irrelevant schools.

    - Ira Socol

    • Monica Lynn Duke

      This is an extremely interesting response.

      Please enlighten me on how you get a “classist, racist charade designed to limit which children succeed” based on a “Calvinist Church ideals” context from this article.

      • ira_david_socol

        Monica,

        The history of American education is a history of a certain class using the constructs of the New England Calvinist church to limit the opportunities for those not-quite-like themselves. In the original design, honed in second half of the 19th century, the goals were “decatholicification” of the immigrant population, and the sorting out of a few lower class students who might prove useful in white collar jobs from those who would be consigned to mines and factories. http://speedchange.blogspot.com/2010/09/designed-to-fail-education-in-america.html

        In the 20th Century this was further developed as industrial education designed to maintain the power and wealth structure of the nation by limiting the opportunities for socio-economic movement through school.

        For the entire 180 years of US mass education history “attention”: sitting up, looking at the teacher, listening quietly, passive acceptance of “what’s in the book” – essentially that American Calvinist Church Experience – has been used as a weapon to “disable” and dismiss those of other ethnic and racial groups, those from lower classes, and those of different abilities.

        The current crop of academics who choose to focus on attention are following this paradigm. The idea that “focus” may not look like it does in a certain church threatens their status and position in society, and – deliberately or not – they set out to prove that their view of school – the school in which they alone succeed – is “right.” It is no different than early 20th century researchers who “proved” – again and again – the link between race and intelligence.

        Ira Socol

        • Rmwithaview

          That paradigm has changed in American classrooms. A teacher
          is no longer the sage on the stage, but a guide on the side. See Sir Ken Robinson on Creativity.

          Always amazing how politicians, publishers, and intellects chime in on that which they may have no experience in or are very inadequate at—engaging students. The article applies. New brain research is rapidly moving forward, and it would do well for any educator to look into RAD Teaching and Dr. Judy Willis. Perhaps a visit to several classrooms of varying nature would be enlightening to many…

    • Montessori-Fan

      I have a 3-year-old enrolled in a Montessori program, and they don’t touch on the subject of religion at all. The teachers have outstanding resumés, the student-to-pupil ratio is great, and each room is filled with rich learning materials. They’re extremely good at what they do at this particular school, plain and simple. Also, religion wasn’t mentioned in this article at all, so that should be telling for any reader concerned with Ira’s comments here. Montessori rocks!

      • ira_david_socol

        I wish Montessori fan could read. I said nothing about “Montessori and Religion.” Montessori proved that distraction was an internal concept unrelated to technology or environment in her “Glass Classroom” at the San Francisco World’s Fair a century ago. The religion issue I brought up, which is tough for Americans to see due to their immersion in Calvinist myth, refers to the design of American education, and the design of the American concept of attention, as constructs based on the New England Calvinist churches from which both sprang.

        Montessori is a fabulous educational path. Montessori fan might need to go back for a refresher course.

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  • Dan Peter

    As a teacher with 35 years experience at everything from grade 3 to university technology is neither the problem nor the solution. Learn to teach in a way that engages students. Cooperative or other group learning strategies, visualizing through the use of graphic organizers, etc used in lessons that apply the learning/problrm solving in contexts meaningful to students. AND YES EVERY LESSON CAN BE CREATED THIS WAY.
    The issue is as it has alwaya been, challenge with meaningful (to them) questions. Kids who are playing with tech in class is because the teacher has not engaged them. I play Fruit Ninja when a workshop is jusr some head talking away.

    • John Smith

      The article clearly states that technology isn’t the problem, but the problem isn’t about being a more engaging teacher either. Being a teacher yourself, it’s a shame that you would even call teaching practices into question when the article clearly doesn’t. Isn’t there enough of that going on right now?

      The argument for more engaging teachers has always existed. The problem, as stated here, is that students are not able to independently concentrate in the same way as those in previous generations. That isn’t a matter of having more stimulating teachers, but rather more available STIMULI. In fact, part of the job of teachers (and parents) is to promote lifelong learning habits, rather than dependent ones and graphic organizers, while great when given out, do not insure that a student will be any good organizing new information on his or her own.

      If anything, these findings show that teachers need to be more transparent with students about effective study habits that will promote their success. But saying that a teacher needs to learn to be more engaging in the face of mounting scientific evidence that there is a lot more to it than that is just irresponsible.

  • Joel Kim Booster

    I’m a millennial and I read half this article, got distracted by something else and came back to read the rest, without even realizing what I was doing. I’m ruined.

    • Nathan

      I totally did the same thing…Ugh, not good.

    • Kath

      That’s exactly what I did too. And I’m supposed to be studying for finals.

      • pickaname

        You guys are killing me. I scrolled for a bulletized list after getting half through. Team gen x.

      • Beth Meyers

        same here =)

      • Joseph Clark

        Same here. This distracted me from finals.

      • Ryan Blakey Bear

        Same… xD Such good students we are.

      • http://www.dermology.us/ Terrie Dawson

        I found many of you similar to me.

    • Bill Hicks

      I’m a Gen X’er, and I only read the first couple of paragraphs, then scanned quickly past the rest to see if it got more interesting. I didn’t even come close to finishing it. So, apparently this isn’t unique to your generation.

      • Jon

        Gen-y’er here. I read the intro and skimmed too, but this is not any different than what my grandparents did with newspapers or what any journalist from 50 years ago would expect from the majority of their readers. The calculus you are making when you skim is likely something like: ‘is this really worth my time and attention?’

      • Jax

        Skimming and finishing is not the same as trying to read it and having your attention drawn away with out you even being aware of it – like in the post above. Skimming can be a good reading skill when it comes to browsing or weeding through a lot of info, but if you had something you needed to read more closely, hopefully you’d be able to. I think that is the major difference. My husband is a science professor and it is amazing how much time he has to spend teaching college students how to read a textbook (and we are actually not that much older than the students – we are gen-y or gen-x depending on how you define them).

    • George Jost

      You finished the article. Maybe something else was more important. Focus should always be evaluated in that context.

    • Xela

      lol… I posted important excerpts from half way through this article on my FB…lol and then continued to read further ahead… and again I did the same with another paragraph further on ….
      Gen X (who’s assimilated with new tech all too well ;-P )

    • http://www.learningstewards.org/ David Boulton
  • kristen

    Is it bad that I’m reading this article while I’m supposed to be writing two papers and a lesson plan?

    • Cyvaris

      Don’t worry, I was making my lesson plans, got distracted, and now this is my lesson plan.

  • Tom Woodward

    My daughter has no problem focusing on NetFlix on the IPad.

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  • Kay

    No, digital devices are not the enemy. But our refusal to question whether consumer goods–even flashy ones with apps–are the answer to everything might be the enemy. You can’t buy your way to educated.

  • Adam Huenecke

    tl;dr.

  • Mallomar

    Gee. Shut off the phone and other distractions. Set small goals (timers, etc.) Allow time to get up and walk around every so often for a mini-break. A little classical music in the background. Wait! This sounds like me doing HS homework in the 70s!

  • Rodrigo Villarreal

    Great
    article, As someone who tends to get distracted pretty easy I can say that the problem
    is that digital gadgets help you keep your mind busy whenever you do not want
    to use it, and by this I mean whenever you are supposed to be doing something
    you might not totally enjoy, (homework for example) And this might become a routine,
    games, music, TV even audio books are one sided mind distracters, and even do,
    you might be watching or listening to something educational your mind is not
    demanded as much as when you need to use it, let’s say to read a tough topic or
    to solve a problem, and in those situations, if you have a “digital gadget” at
    hand that could distract you, you might be tempted into getting your mind out
    of that situation where its being forced to learn or to do something
    challenging, in the long run you become dependent of “Easy distracters” and
    become unable to completely focus into important situation with topics that
    might not be as appealing to you, and regarding the “multitasking” I agree that
    it’s not completely true because if you dedicate 5 min periods into doing a
    task while distracting every once in a while with other things you might
    actually finish it but it will not help you to fully understand it or to learn
    from it.

    In the end
    its about self discipline, learning to keep yourself from taking the easy way
    out into boring tasks, telling no to yourself, and trying to keep every time
    for a longer period focused into something, without having any other distracter,
    not even music.

  • Sigmoid Froid

    I wonder if one of the features of the Montessori method is Montessori Montessori Montessori.

  • Chris

    I agree that we are in the “Age of Distraction,” and it might be related to what Guy Debord called “The Society of the Spectacle” fifty some years ago—but I would urge a reconsideration of “Why It’s Crucial for Students to Learn to Focus.”

    Of course the ability to focus determines the quality of an education. But a well educated person is not defined by “reading the text, understanding and listening to what the teacher is saying.” This article misses the whole notion of developing the ability to critique/create with the many things exposed to you in class. Success is repeatedly implied as the material rewards you achieve for regurgitating what you swallowed in school—especially in the discussion of the “longitudinal study” conducted in New Zealand in which the results depended on a subjective analysis of how well participants “fared in life” several decades later.

    From the American point of view, how can you participate in a democracy if you have never been encouraged to speak with your own voice? How can you participate “successfully”/meaningfully in any system—political or otherwise? The discussion of “Why It’s Crucial for Students to Focus” should center around active participation in the classroom—not the disengaged absorption of information.

    • R.G.

      An interesting question: “how can you participate in a democracy if you have never been encouraged to speak with your own voice?”
      Do we learn to use the network available online to establish ways in which we communicate issues and ideas? How do we challenge the current government system in the US effectively, without campaigns and petitions?
      Ultimately, how do we participate in a flawed political system which imposes problems in systems dependent on its processes (i.e. state regulated education)?

  • rye

    Lack of concentration is a lack of effort, blaming technology its a nice try…

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  • Kim

    I think the editor has an attention problem. “Teachers say students are unable to comprehend the same texts that generations of students that came before them could master without problems” should clearly read “unable to comprehend the same tests…”

    • Jennifer

      Why would it be tests? The author is saying that students can’t comprehend a TEXT – as in, a passage of writing. Whether it be history, literature, or science, students should be able to read a passage of writing and understand the main point. However, most are unable to grasp passages (ie – texts) that students their age should be able to understand.

    • Erin Stewart

      It was written correctly. Text meaning what they are reading.

  • Morag Gaherty

    My two teenage boys are very intelligent. I say that, not to boast, but to point out that it has been bred into them: when they first started school, I told them I was not interested in anything except that they learn how to read and how to think. Homework was and is their responsibility.

    At 15 and 13, they still have that love of learning I never wanted them to lose. It also helps that neither of them has a smartphone – they have a basic phone for travel warnings/texts and nothing else. At the moment, when they come home (they board at school), they log on to the PS3 immediately, but I feel they are entitled to some R&R time.

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  • SeanP

    I’m 43, and not part of any generation tag that I know of, but as I have learned to focus I read the entire article (and most publications) about three or four words at a glance. Often I incorporate whole sentences as a single entinty.

  • Jake Wilson

    the awkward moment when you were studying for finals, but got distracted by this article.

  • blkfootblaque

    I’m with you Bill Hicks, but I’m a baby boomer and the shyt got boring too quick. I scammed to the last paragraph and try to read all of you guys posts to fill in the rest of information. LOL.~~FOOTS~~

  • Raymond

    But can we learn to focus? Because I’ve been trying, and I don’t think I’ve gotten any better…

  • Overthinker

    Having a protected time every day to get things done? What I wouldn’t give for that. No wonder my first semester of full time college since becoming the parent of two children has been such a struggle.

    Honestly, I think much of the problem is systemic, coming from the belief that idle time is wasted time. So even the smallest chunk of time is spent being productive. This isn’t a digital phenomenon. Think of the people constantly carrying a book to read, or filling gaps with crossword puzzles, or chatting with another person. Giving the mind space to think is something that has not been valued for many generations.

  • ronwhitman

    I don’t think we’ve even scratched the surface of how damaging social media and ubiquitous connectivity is going to become to the fabric of our society.

    I’ve worked in the field of designing and measuring the effectiveness of technology in keeping you hooked. We do things like measure metrics about how often you check an application or website per day, how many alerts we should send you – too many and you turn it off, too few and you forget we’re there. We want you to keep coming back, stop doing what you’re doing check the app. Games are designed with research on addictive behavior, getting dopamine to fire every time you check back. Socially-connected media is purposely addictive and it is going to do untold damage to people in ways I don’t think anyone fully grasps, young and old.

    I’m a borderline millenial, the older end of digital native, and I’ve spent the past few years battling crippling problems with distraction. I’m always on and connected, I need to be in front of a dozen screens for my line of work and its obliterated my concentration and capacity to do tasks that need any measure of time commitment. I haven’t read a book in 3 years because I can no longer get more than a few pages in at a time – I used to tear through books, long boring non-fiction books, several a month. Now all I do is just consume information all day in little chunks and I produce nothing of merit.

    Any suggestion that ubiquitous technology is in some way good for kids is false, and the argument that they just need to suck it up and learn how to be less distracted isn’t grasping the severity of the problem in the least. Ubiquitous socially connected technology and this phenomenon of continuous distraction is so new that no one has any idea in the slightest what longterm impact it will have our society. It is warping the next generation in ways that will only become apparent when its already too late. If you have kids, take every bit of tech they have access to and get rid of it, now. Don’t let your kids anywhere near an iPhone, or YouTube or xbox live or whatever. You’re warping their bodies and minds worse than if you purposely gave them illegal drugs, you just don’t know it yet

    • M R G

      Agreed!

    • momof2

      I agree with every thing you said. This generation is a bunch of guinea pigs and we will not know the damage until it is too late. I teach and see this distracted generation all day long. You can tell the students who have more focus and self control and get better grades, they are the ones whose parents gave them opportunities that didn’t include a screen; libraries, a walk in the woods, trips to museums, visits to historical sites and visits with relatives at the holidays. These students do not have their cell phones out during class and can relate what you talk about to something they have experienced; their foundation of knowledge developed by the real world, not the virtual world.

  • ErikSlajus

    To the parents who give their babies and children ipads and iphones. You done goofed,

  • Kara Aharon

    “The area of the brain that governs focus and executive functioning is known as the pre-frontal cortex. This is also the part of the brain that allows people to control themselves, to keep emotions in check and to feel empathy for other people.” – Could this be connected to the increase in violence we’ve been witnessing, especially among teens?

  • g

    How do we teach kids to focus?

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  • Kate Hutchinson

    Growing up, I didn’t have difficulty paying attention–I could spend an entire Saturday reading one book after another, or work on big school projects easily. As an adult, however, I have plenty of trouble staying on task, mostly due to the nature of my work. I manage the social media for a large tech company. This means monitoring various social channels, writing content, planning campaigns, in addition to sitting in on other meetings trying to find the best way to integrate social more deeply with our customer experience. Trying to set aside an hour for writing is like pulling teeth. At home, I do my best not to touch my digital devices.

  • Queenoid

    Interesting, but no information on HOW to learn to pay attention! References? Links? Resources?

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  • grayrain

    I agree that concentration is important, but I’m not sure that digital devices have anything to do with the erosion of it. Places like Japan, where mobile phones and devices have created an entirely new sort of culture, don’t seem to be dipping in the educational frontiers.

    To be honest, to some degree, I think current generations are better at filtering out useless information and are able to get to the point of things faster. It irks me personally when I’m set to read an interesting, informative article, and there’s some unprovable, long-winded anecdote at the beginning. Just gimme’ the facts!

  • Linkey Booth Green

    This is an excellent article. However, we need to go back further in a child’s life if we want to really work on this issue. Babies are put in front of computer screens and TV’s which have fast paced stuff. The first few years lay the tracks in the brain of how a person learns. Babies and toddlers don’t need any screen time. They need to be exploring their world with real things they can put in their mouths, feel, look at over and over, hear and smell. Screens don’t do that. Today, everything is flashed on a screen so quickly that no one can focus. So, parents, prepare your child for school and life by letting him explore the real world and not one on a screen.

  • Kirthana Devarakonda

    It isn’t only the lack of concentration though. We get too easily distracted by various things. And we let media distract us. Our fault, yes? We constantly check our phones for texts or notifications, even though we know it will buzz when there actually is one. We want to be distracted. We’re doomed indeed.

  • Gabriela Valledor

    ..I don’t think this is “the age of distraction” but the “age of intolerance to distraction”..the way distraction is condemned in our society is what actually creates problems rather than the distraction itself..

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  • Nancy B.

    Late Boomer / Early Gen X’er – read the whole thing, all the way through, no focus issues. That said, I love to surf, text, etc, and I feel it’s harder for me to concentrate than it used to be.

  • Moley

    I’m going to be 68 next birthday…just so the Gen Y and millenials know where I fit (!). I shall quote one line from Mr. Goleman….”The pulls away from that mean that we have to become more intentional about teaching kids.”

    Is his first language English?? I ask as the above quote makes no sense to me at all. Later on he babbles about equating “Success” with performance in some test of concentration…another quote: “It’s very important to amp up the focus side of the equation”….drivel. How does one define success?? How much money an individual has made? How high they have risen in someone else’s organisation? What they have created? Songs they have written…poetry…..painting…sculpture….? Who knows…. then again, the productive life of a mathematician is measurable in seconds, when the inspiration strikes and the mists clear. I do agree with his remarks on “multitasking”, this is a synonym for distraction and inefficiency.

  • AmTulku.Com

    Meditation…

  • Tony

    Anything else “school’s should” do Ms. Schwartz? How about we end poverty, cure cancer, stop global warming, and steer all asteroids away from the earth. We have so little on our plates as it is, of course we can teach concentration to the short attention span/distracted generation. We’re teachers after all -you know, so highly regarded by ………..hmmmmmm. Well, I hear we’re highly regarded in Japan and Finland. But surely, bring it on!!

  • Katy Bug

    This explains so much about me. It’s actually kind of scary!

    Personally, I had trouble not veering away from the text to look at the article links in the sidebar. I had to pause, take a deep breath, and mentally yell the bigger words I kept skimming over. I have a decent vocabulary and I love learning new words, but my mind doesn’t always want to focus on words longer than “lol” when I’m reading.

  • Elizabeth

    I read half of the first sentence and then scrolled down to see how long the article was before determining if I wanted to waste my time reading it! That’s sad…

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  • Reader

    It’s all very well to talk about the importance of focus for kids, but I’d like more info about how to foster it. I have a 7 yr old who has been easily distracted from the time she could hold her head up on her own–EVERYTHING is very interesting to her, which means she can be pulled away from one task (especially if it is less than interesting) to any number of other things. She was in a Montessori school for 1+ yrs, but we found it wasn’t a good fit for her, specifically because she would have a hard time figuring out what to do when she had so many choices, and thus would stick with things that were most comfortable/fun (reading, socializing). In any case, we’ve tried to figure out ways to help her find her focus and therefore be more successful in completing tasks, etc, but haven’t had much luck. Other than mindfulness practice and a digital sabbath, there isn’t much to help out here. Ideas?

  • Tracy

    That flip phone tho…

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  • Donah

    After reading some of the comments, it sounds to me like many of our struggles with concentration might be compounded by issues with time management.

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  • Ivan B. Cohen

    Who are responsible for these “digital” classroom tools? The adults of course. Truth be told the little Red Schoolhouse days of doing homework assignments is not coming back. So it would behoove man to master and manage the technology before it masters and manages him. I am not talking about some episode of Twilight Zone either.

  • Hiya Khan

    you are right main problem with students is our social and cellular media. House Shifting Dubai

  • Amanda Dean

    Do you find it at all sadly ironic that this article on the importance of focus is embedded with distractions? I see links to 12 different articles while I am reading it (not including hypertext links within the article). The manner in which websites are designed can affect focus just as much as the manner in which cities are designed effects safety, foot traffic, etc. If you’re committed to helping people focus, put the links beneath the article, not beside and within it. But I guess it’s not in your site’s best interest to do so, so there you have it.

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  • Jack

    Ask someone who played in a good High School Band if they know how to focus. It’s a no-brainer. A comprehensive, well staffed and funded instrumental music education program in every American school system is the answer to this and many other problems facing the U.S. public education system.

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  • Princesscharm

    Its better to read nd study my text rather than reading this whole article!!!

  • Heike Larson

    Having time to engage deeply in a chosen activity is essential to building concentration skills. That’s why good Montessori schools offer unstructured work periods that are 2-3 hours long–time where preschoolers can get deeply immersed in activities of their choosing.

    As one previous poster mentioned, though, parents have a large role to play as well. Instead of giving ready access to screens or shuttling children from one adult-led activity to the next, we need to jealously protect long stretches of unstructured time so children can find passions and delve deeply into them. I just wrote a blog post on this topic, with several ideas on how parents can guide children toward concentration by supporting child-led activities: http://www.leportschools.com/blog/value-unstructured-time-instead-of-tv/

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  • testbankprep

    Part of the problem might be that students aren’t in the habit of using these tools (phones, tablets, etc.) for real, focused learning.

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  • Amanda L Vandenburgh

    I have to start following a blog for a school assignment and yours caught my eye. Great content! Catchy title!

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