“I think the one lesson I have learned is that there is no substitute for paying attention.” - Diane Sawyer
Just because it is summer does not mean your child should stop using his or her brain. Summer is a good time to hone certain skills that can improve learning and therefore intelligence. One of the most important aspects of learning, if not the “sine qua non of learning” (as Newsweek called it, Jan 9, 2012) is attention. If you are not paying attention to something, you cannot learn it. The classic example would be forgetting a person’s name two seconds after meeting said person at a cocktail party. It is such an awful feeling trying to somehow figure out the name without completely embarrassing yourself. It can be very awkward calling a person you just met “buddy” or “dude”.
Attention is a cognitive skill that can be improved. I will focus on four ways to do this. The first is to decrease the amount of video games, television and texting a person engages in. Research shows that all of these things will decrease a person’s attention span. This especially applies to the amount of time spent using them and whether or not a person is “multi-tasking”. The current consensus in the mental health community is that less than 14 hours per week of total use and using only one form of media at a time is ideal. I know, getting a teenager to cut back on texting or multi-tasking is like asking fire to stop being hot, but isn’t it worth a try?
Second is exercise. Regular exercise, 4 to 5 times per week, thirty or more minutes, with a heart rate elevated to at least 60% of maximum estimated heart rate (calculated as 220 minus your age) helps with attention. A bonus is that regular exercise fills a person with a general sense of well-being and less depression. There are many ways to get exercise. The key is to find something that your child enjoys and will be interested in.
Third, exercise the brain itself. Like a muscle, the more it is used the more powerful it becomes. Activities that require good attention include those that require both cognitive and motor skills such as learning to play a musical instrument, riding a horse, or playing a sport. Writing works very well. As author Michael Leboeuf notes, “When you write down your ideas you automatically focus your full attention on them. Few if any of us can write one thought and think another at the same time. Thus a pencil and paper make excellent concentration tools.” Other ways to exercise the brain include learning a second language, eating a healthy diet of mostly fruits and vegetables, minimal sugar and processed foods, and becoming an expert in something. Help your child to find a passion and nurture her or him in learning about it.
Fourth is the power of suggestion. Remind your child that he or she can concentrate. It seems that some kids hear so many times that they are bad at concentrating that they program their mind to believe they cannot. Keep a positive spin on the work to improve concentration. Make it a mantra: “the more you work on your concentration, the better you will be at concentrating.”
It will be a challenge to help your child work on these things. Maybe you start with yourself; children often mimic what their parents do. Unplug the internet or television if you have to, start your own exercise routine, work on improving your diet. You can additionally plan more activities that require the use of the brain such a trip to the art museum or a science project that requires team work.
Quickly (and without looking); what is the name of the magazine I referred to in the first paragraph? What is the first name of the author referred to in the quote in the fourth paragraph? Maybe we can all use some work on our attention skills. Just imagine never having to nudge your friend, discreetly point at a person you just met and ask, “What was that person’s name again?”
-(thanks to the “SuccessConsciousness” blog for the quotes)