Distraction, Boredom, or Connected?


There is much talk about how kids (and adults!) are distracted by their digital devices simply because the learning is boring or not relevant… that if we only make it more engaging they won’t be checking their smartphones… that it is no different than doodling “old school style” with pencil and paper.  I disagree. True, it’s far worse when the learning is dull and lacks meaning and relevance, but being so digitally and instantly connected to friends creates a continuous party in their pockets. One can’t always blame the teacher or the teaching. It’s just human nature at some point to want to remain part of the conversation in real time. Why do so many adults continue to text while driving despite the facts of the incredible danger it puts themselves and those around them in? Is it because they are bored? I have to continually practice self talk and self discipline in this regard, telling myself that the text, tweet, or e-mail can wait. I also practice this in front of my children, as there’s no worse teacher than a hypocrite.

As a recent example, I received a rather important DM in Twitter while driving. Rather than ignore it, I passed the phone to my son and told him to reply so that the individual wouldn’t think that I was just ignoring him. Had my son not been in the car and had I felt that it was important enough, I would have pulled over and replied, along with the information that I was driving and would reply more specifically later.


Instead, I think we need to place more emphasis on the teaching of mindfulness, attention literacy, and self discipline in this regard and stop placing so much blame on teachers and kids (or boring staff meetings…). These kids become drivers and employees, too. They need to acquire and practice these important attributes of mindfulness and attention literacy. We can’t always just distract them from their distraction by trying to engage them more. What about when they are at home? Doing homework? Reading? At the dinner table? In their house of worship?

This one researcher makes an interesting point about the digital divide and writes,

“… the digital divide is not about the gadget haves and have nots, but rather about those who can resist the constant distracting tug of technology and those who cannot.”

Now, of course, I am not arguing against creating learning environments that are relevant, invigorating, student-centered, and meaningfully complex and rich – where they can actually USE their devices to support their learning. What I AM saying is that all of the responsibility for one’s attention cannot be placed on something or someone else all of the time. Some of this is developmental, and at some point, learned behavior and choice.

As this article concludes,

“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 [emphasis mine] but having the capacity to concentrate as you need to, when you want to.”

When the party in your pocket is calling when you are supposed to be focused on a task, what do you do?

2 thoughts on “Distraction, Boredom, or Connected?

  1. Such an important question. I talk to my students about this all the time. When is the right time to check that message? Can it wait until recess? I really want to check my Twitter feed right now, but I also need to work one-on-one with you to help you figure out this problem. Where do you think our attention needs to be right now? We also talk about FOMO. If your friend in the classroom down the hall is texting you about what you’re doing after school, do you have to know that RIGHT NOW? I have found that when I model for my students that I am not going to answer the “party in my pocket” (brilliant, by the way) immediately, because we are doing something that needs to take higher priority, and they know I struggle with the same attention/focus issues that they do, it can open up some powerful conversations, and opportunities to talk about/develop strategies.

  2. Thanks so much for sharing this, Lisa. This is exactly what I was trying to get at… Being distracted isn’t “bad”, it’s normal. We all need to acknowledge it for what it is and work toward making choices that are good for us. Our children and our students need to see that we also struggle with this and that we strive to make wise and healthy choices in spite of the temptations, distractions, and difficulties. I love how you point out the importance of conversation in all of this. Students/our kids don’t need lectures and banning (unless in extreme circumstances). They need strategies, modeling and conversation. Great point!

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