Updated: May 31, 2022
WRITTEN BY SALLY HILLS-DAVIS, CHILDRENS OCCUPATIONAL THERAPIST AND KIRSTY BROCKLEHURST, CHILDRENS PHYSIOTHERAPIST. FOUNDERS OF THE PRACTICAL CHILD.
Does technology affect children's attention span? I run clinics for children of all ages and one thing that I have recently noticed is that children appear to be finding it harder to concentrate. Not only that, I have noticed it in other different areas too. When I go out for a coffee or to eat, I constantly see people checking their phones, picking it up, looking at it and putting it back down. I am sure, they do not even know that they are doing it. I also notice that when I am sitting at my computer, writing a report or doing some other complex task, if my phone is next to me, I will keep picking it up. It is not until I bring myself into the present moment that I realise what I am doing. This made me ask the question 'Does technology affect children's attention span?
In 2018 research from telecoms regulator, Ofcom stated that on average people look at their smartphone every 12 minutes. 40% say they check their phones within 5 minutes of waking and 71% saying they they never turn them off. A recent study 'Brain Drain: The Mere Presence of One's Own Smartphone Reduces Available Cognitive Capacity' found that having a smart phone near by, affects concentration. So that certainly does appear to answer my question ''Does technology affect children's attention span?'
Phones for our youngsters are becoming more and more common and even in classrooms phones are often used for some school work. Homework particularly can be an issue with children, like us adults having their phones sitting right next to them. Here can lie an issue. According to the Child Mind Institute, many adults and children share the idea that texting and monitoring feeds whilst working, we can still be productive. However, Dr Cruger from the Child Mind Institute states that ' Having multiple sources of technology at your fingertips at all times probably is almost a guarantee of a reduction in performance and productivity'. He argues that those distracted by emails and phone calls saw a 10-point fall in their IQ, twice that found in studies on the impact of smoking marijuana!
By having our phones next to us we are having to multi task which means we are working less effectively due to dividing our attention, unable to engage in our work with the same fluency as we would have otherwise done. We are not even really multi tasking, we are more switching between different activities. Cortisol and adrenaline are there to help us get through times of intense activity but in the long term too much cortisol can knock out our feel good hormones serotonin and dopamine which are the hormones help us to feel calm and happy. The outcome of this could affect our sleep and leave us feeling jittery.
All these things impact on our ability to concentrate and attend to every day tasks. so a clear yes to ,Does technology affect children's attention span? It is no wonder then that our children are finding it harder and harder. By being aware of these issues, parents and carers can model as how our phones can be put down and left without the need to constantly be checking them. In our family we have always had a no phones at the dinner table policy. This allows meal times to be free of distractions where we can talk and give each other time and really concentrate on what is being said.