Of Teens and Ever-shrinking Attention Spans

Apr 29, 2015 | Parenting 101

I did a little experiment on my teens the other day. I made myself a cup of coffee, grabbed some Nachos and sat down with a lifestyle magazine in the living room when my children were supposedly having some family time. Needless to say that they are were engrossed in their smartphones and tablets and no one was really talking. A comedy show was running in the background on the TV and the comedian must be making jokes on how technology has stripped us off any real connection. Anyhow, I tried best to be invisible and just secretly observed my teens all the time pretending to be reading.

I’d say it was interesting, although I had to push down any guilt that I might be violating their privacy, I just had to check one thing: how long can they concentrate on one thing – a video, some article, messaging apps, social media and so on. Here’s my observation:

My son watched TV for a couple of minutes and lost interest in that senseless comedy. He fidgeted and just picked up his smartphones. Although I couldn’t clearly see, but he scrolled some memes on a meme website. He smiled at a few, chuckled at another but then remained silent. My guess was right that he was getting bored. He exited the website and then switched to WhatsApp. There were apparently some unread messages in a group so he started responding to those. Then the phone beeped and there was a status update from his friend on Facebook. He tapped on that and landed on that app. Liked and commented on that status update and then scrolled his timeline; commenting and liking every now and then. Then, some T-shirt ad caught his eye and he tapped on that ad to navigate to its website. While he was checking the new arrivals, he got a call from his friend and he went on to talk to him. While he sounded perfectly calm and collected, my brain just did a somersault! What was happening!! This all happened in just 6 minutes and some thirty seconds! So much content and so much information that he got exposed to in just 6 minutes had no chaotic effect on him whatsoever!

Are our teens becoming super humans?

Does their brain collect, process and retain all this information better than us 70’s people?

Not really.

Teens today have ridiculously short attention spans.

Teens and shrinking attention spans

Brands, companies and advertisers are fighting a cut-throat battle to get consumer’s attention and I’d say they are doing it remarkably well. With all the information out there, people, especially the teens, need something to keep them interested. In the fight to get more eyeballs, they have actually made today’s generation to scroll, tap and navigate away from the uninteresting content. It’s getting the brands revenue but what is it doing to the kids? They are getting ever-shrinking attention spans. Call it Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or any fancy name that you may.

Does your teen have ADHD? Take this test

Chances are that he/she may have. The average attention span in teens today is almost 8.25 seconds. Yes, seconds! And it dropped from 12 minutes in 2001. If you want to check if your children have ADHD, make them take this test formulated by Psychology Today.

Who’s to blame?

If you rewind it to the time when your children were infants and would cry the heck out of you, you might have handed over an iPad or your smartphone with poems, videos and cartoons. If you’ve ever done that (which most of us have done) you added a little to what we have up our sleeves! Content has shrunk. It’s more graphical and less time-taking. On YouTube, there are series of short video clips all under 10 minutes. They are rewiring our brains. When there is more to a story in a film, we say that it’s a drag! Growing up, our kids see ads that are less than 30 seconds long, news under 140-character limit and not to forget to the GIFs and Vines. All that is making their brains process more and retain less!

AssistedLivingToday, created an infographic illustrating how social media ruining our brains!

famiHow to make them pay attention?

It’s not just with them and their gadgets, attention deficit affects them everywhere. Remember how many times you have to call them for dinner? They’d almost always forget to get stuff that you asked for on their way home. Their teachers would increasingly complain about lack of attention at school and they’d always be distracted, agitated and irritable.

First up, you need to analyze their activities. What they do, how soon they get bored and how difficult is it for them to sit at a place and concentrate – you need to know it somehow. Here, the good old parental control apps can help you. If you don’t want to or can’t observe them secretly, you can rely on these parental control apps to do it. Analyze their online activities, apps they use and its frequency.

Then you need to engage and encourage them to pay more attention and be aware of their surroundings. You can ban smartphones and all tech gadgets at meal times and during school. You could play little games to make them concentrate more. My favorite game is to making my kids observe a picture or an object for 1 minute and then answer my questions regarding it. The one who lose has to do the dishes for the night. Don’t let them gulp down the milk and push down the food in a rush. Make them eat slowly and engage in small table-talk. There can be a lot of ways to make them slow down and absorb what they’re doing and anything will do!


FamilyTime helps families manage and protect their children’s digital lives.

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