Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Time to start paying attention


One mental disorder normally associated with lack of focus and inability to learn properly is taking on a new definition in our country. Everyone knows about attention disorders, primarily attention deficit disorder (ADD) and attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD).

The number of people diagnosed with this disorder is skyrocketing. From 2003 to 2007, reports of students with one of these disorders went up 22 percent. In 2008, more than 5 million students were diagnosed with ADD or ADHD, and 2.8 million of them were approved for medication. This sudden rise is troubling to teachers and parents nationwide and causes experts to stretch what it means to have attention problems. However, the real trouble is whether these children have these problems or are instead learning differently due to a media heavy society.

As culture evolves and advances, it is expected that people will change according to what surrounds them. Our 21st century world is based highly on the idea of instant gratification. As children of this generation grow up, they will be raised much differently than those of generations before. Essentially, kids have access to everything they want in seconds. Television is a focal point of growing up. The average child between the ages of 2 and 5 years old spends 32 hours a week watching TV or television related media. Children from ages 6 to 11 spend about 28 hours viewing the TV on average.

Additionally, many young students are learning to use computers and other handheld technological devices. As these children grow up alongside a strong television presence, their brain waves are altered and become accustomed to an unnatural level of waves. Normally, the human brain operates on high wave energy levels. However, in states of inactivity, the brain drops down to lower levels. Watching TV moves the energy level of our brain into its lowest possible state. It has the same effect on the brain as staring at a blank wall. As our brains grow accustomed to this low level, it becomes harder for people to adjust to the higher level waves required for the work done at school. This makes it harder not only to focus on a certain task, but also to take in and process the information.

Given these neurological facts, scientists have stated that the spike in attention problems in students is linked to this brain wave alteration. Doctors, seeing the symptoms of lack of focus and jittery behavior, may be quick to diagnose students with attention problems and prescribe medication. However, sometimes children are simply not energetic or are accustomed to the brain activity of watching television. Medication given to a child without an actual attention disorder often has the opposite effect, making them even more hyperactive and unfocused. In this way, a misdiagnosis can also harm a child.

The rise in attention disorders may not be completely linked to television and other media, but this possibility is just an example of our changing world. The Internet world is filled with such attention-numbing distractions and is changing how children and young adults go about learning. An answer to a question is a Google search away, video games deliver entertainment at a high speed level and sites like Facebook act as both distractions and barriers to real social interaction.

Basically, our world is geared to operate on the level of our media. Kids are no longer accustomed to learning the old fashioned way at a desk in a classroom.

Psychologists also point to a variety of other causes of spikes in attention problems. Factors such as the lack of parental discipline or guidance could come into play. Parents are busy working in a hurting economy and may not have the time and energy to structure the development of their children. The schools only have the children for a few hours, so it is crucial that parents also encourage learning in home life.

Also, violence observed on TV can lead to bad behavior in school. With only TV to teach children, they would take notice of what they observe on television and act in accordance with that.

Experts also point to poor diet, lack of exercise, and lack of social interactions as reasons that children are struggling in school. Overall, a stable and enriching home structure is essential for classroom and developmental success.

With all these possible factors and correlations in mind, the big question for educators concerns fixing this issue. The world has clearly changed and the current system cannot accommodate a large amount of students who simply learn in different styles.

Schools are always adding technology such as smart boards and are incorporating computer aided learning into the process. Education is at a huge crossroads. Do schools begin to rely on parents to positively impact their kids’ pre-education and home lives or must teachers radically change their approaches in order to assist a new generation of media-driven students?

Either way, we must adapt to the changing learning environment. Parents have to be involved in the lives of their children and teachers need to try their best to teach in a way that benefits all students and allows them to grow. Doctors and psychologists have to clearly define attention problems and make sure that they prescribe medication only to those in real need. Parent and teacher relations and communication has to increase to get both parties on the same page.

As with other issues, we have to change our approach to educate a different generation of people to attain success.

Luke Dery can be reached at [email protected].

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