Let me explain.
As you know, Sam, Emily, and I have done an annual parent workshop for Charles Wright Academy families for several years now. This past January, our audience was bigger than ever, and we ran overtime by at least an hour as people lingered to ask more questions and talk to each other. Emily wrote a brilliant blog post in the aftermath of our evening when she realized, and beautifully put into words, what we were all needing that evening. To not feel so alone in our parenting decisions. The feeling of community was palpable, as we finally closed the doors at 8:45 for an event scheduled to end at 7:30.
One of the last suggestions made by a member of our audience asked us to do another workshop, but one where they could bring their kids with them, to hear the same message, and to begin the work as a family of crafting guidelines and rules for technology use that everyone could live with. Backed up by research, of course. :)
So that's PART ONE. Genius suggestion. Why hadn't we thought of it before?
PART TWO, in the next couple of weeks my email inbox and my Facebook messages blew up with links to the new documentary Screenagers. Had I heard of it? Did I know anything about it? Was there any way we could bring it to CWA to screen it? "I saw this and thought of you" type stuff. It had just debuted in February and was getting a lot of buzz online. So I checked into it...could we do this? What was it going to take? Navigating the school calendar is almost a labyrinth from which there is no escape. I know, because I built our current system, so I can see ALL THE CALENDARS! Not many openings in the spring time around here...we get BUSY.
But one date was already on the calendar, May 18th. PART THREE! Sam and I were slated to be guest speakers at the Pierce County CHADD meeting hosted on our campus by my wonderful colleague and gifted learning specialist, Mary Beth Cole. Would we come and talk to the CHADD group about technology and ADHD? Of course! Emily was slated as the guest speaker in March, and we would take the May meeting. Bimonthly doses of the three of us, as it were. I pitched my idea of combining the CHADD meeting with the film screening, and Mary graciously accepted our offer. So I got serious about securing the rights to show the film.
Enter PART FOUR, our admissions and marketing team. Our first workshop was open to the public, this event would be too. Our school has a strong commitment to providing resources to and activities for the South Puget Sound region, in addition to our own families. In the list of available screenings thus far, the next closest location to view the film was in Olympia. If we did it here, we could garner a broad audience from many local neighborhoods and school districts. Excellent!
The icing on the cake? Our incredible Parent Association, PART FIVE. Kathy Hinz, the current Steering Committee chair of the PA, had already heard the buzz and she had simultaneously been in contact with the Screenagers folks about getting the film here. She had already heard back from them and the Parent Association was totally on board to sponsor the film for us! How did I get so lucky?
So it's on!
I've been working on a piece for our school blog, which I'm sharing parts of here, so you can see how everything has conspired to bring us all together one more time this year. I sure don't feel so alone right now. RSVPs stand at 200 and counting...Thanks to all for helping make it happen!
The intersection of technology and attention disorders is quite complicated, especially if you have read recent headlines like Is the Internet Giving Us All ADHD? (Washington Post, March 2015) juxtaposed with other offerings claiming Technology Makes ADHD Better, Not Worse (Forbes, June 2015). How are we to make sense of all this? In our current digital age, we use technology to learn, communicate, organize, create, and be entertained. Our growing use of, and dependence on, these devices has teachers, researchers, and doctors asking questions about the impact of all this connectedness not only on our ability to focus and pay attention to tasks, but on our health and well-being in general. Within the last year, the phrase adult onset ADHD has actually become a thing (even though it’s NOT really a thing), as we all struggle to understand why we are so easily drawn to, and distracted by, our smart phones. Think “SQUIRREL!” from the movie “Up.”
Well, to link the distracting nature of technology directly to ADHD is a bit disingenuous. As author Caitlin Dewey points out in her piece for the Post, “The Web certainly may cause ADHD-like symptoms, and it could exacerbate the disorder in children and adults who suffer from it already … but there’s no evidence that Internet use could actually cause an otherwise healthy person to develop the disorder. After all, ADHD is believed to have a range of underlying genetic causes, things you couldn’t just ‘catch’ from a computer screen.” What many are actually alluding to when they discuss such distractibility is not ADHD, but multitasking, which years of brain research now shows to be an impossibility. No matter how good we think we are at multitasking, what we are actually doing is task-switching. Perhaps we don’t notice because we do it so rapidly, but each and every time our brain has to make the switch between tasks, however small, it takes a toll on our productivity. We are drawn to the beep, buzz, alert, or notification that forces the change in focus, and we lose track of where we are because we haven't actually seen a single task through to the end. Hence we can feel like we are doing a lot of things but accomplishing nothing at the same time. Sound familiar?
As for the realities of ADHD and technology, parents are often baffled that their child can’t sit still long enough to read a book or complete a project, but put them in front a videogame and they can play for hours. There are multiple factors at work here. Dr. Dimitri Christakis, professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington and the director of the Center for Child Health, Behavior and Development at Children's Hospital in Seattle, urges us to think about ADHD differently than we currently do, not in terms of who can and cannot pay attention, but as a spectrum of “attentional capacity.” All of us exist somewhere on this continuum, and finding out what works for each of us is critical. The ADHD brain works differently. As Dr. Dale Archer puts it, “The chaotic effect of competing sources of information that can distract and derail others is like manna to an ADHDer, for whom these extreme states actually boost a feel-good response in the brain. It’s why many with ADHD appear so focused and functional in the middle of a maelstrom.” That super-focused videogame player? The stimuli of the game, and the rapid nature of your choices leading to immediate rewards, is exactly what an ADHD brain craves, he says. So in this case, the child’s attentional capacity for the game is greater than it might be for other activities that do not offer similar rewards. Who wouldn’t choose the game in those circumstances?
There is still cause for concern, however, in that too much time/attention devoted to a certain task can be a problem. Discussing the common misconception that people with ADHD simply cannot pay attention, Dr. Ned Hallowell, one of the country’s leading experts on ADHD, puts it this way: “People with ADHD can super-focus at times and pay better attention than anyone. When what they are doing interests them they often go into a state of hyper-focus, such that they lose track of the passage of time or their biological needs and drives. It is when they are not interested that their minds wander. But their minds do not go empty, which is why attention deficit is such a misnomer. In ADHD attention wanders, but it never disappears.”
So how does a family manage their use of technology and screen time, whether ADHD is present in the home or not? For all of us to maximize our attentional capacity, we need to critically look at how we are spending our time and seek the right balance. For the parent who feels like Snapchat and Instagram have “stolen” their child from them, this means some pretty critical thinking needs to occur about how, when, and why your child has access to social media. Add adolescence and hormones to the mix and we really have a lot to learn!
We invite you to join us at Charles Wright Academy on May 18 at 6:30pm in the Middle School Commons for a FREE screening of the documentary Screenagers. Sponsored by our Parent Association, and supported by our local chapter of CHADD, this film offers us a chance to get together and discuss reasonable family guidelines and limits as we examine the impact of technology on our lives. We encourage you to bring your tween/teen(s) with you to watch the film! (10+) Technology coordinator Holly Gerla, middle school librarian Sam Harris, and parent coach Emily McMason, who hosted January’s Raising Kids in the Digital World workshop, will lead the post-film discussion. We look forward to seeing you!