The childhood epidemic of Attention Deficit Disorder and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is misleading. Children with this diagnosis can focus very well on things that interest them. The real issue is they have an unwillingness to concentrate on things they are told to do where they have little interest when they want they can pay attention.
The overwhelming majority of these students can eagerly spend hours playing video games, watching television, reading about dinosaurs, putting on make up or doing their nails. It is not a problem of paying attention; it is a narrow and limited field of interest and a lack of discipline to work to expand it.
Our schools have seen this phenomenon of students not paying attention in certain academic areas but focusing like a laser beam on things they like. It is negatively affecting students’ learning especially when studying something that demands building a foundation of knowledge. Students in school have to learn and relearn fundamental facts and skills to build a solid broad knowledge base. A major part of school is not always new and exciting but must be done to be able to reach a higher level of thinking.
It would be counter productive and obscene to label every inattentive child although we are trying with a vengeance to do it in our nation. The latest approach to tackle this phenomenon is to teach the teachers to make instruction more interesting by using the student’s interest to sneak in necessary subject matter. This approach has not been effective because it wastes valuable time on entertainment rather than developing a strong academic foundation.
The appeasement of students through immediate gratification does nothing to correct a student’s focus deficit; instead it increases it. The entertainment and game approach to teaching may have temporary success but is destined to fail because it is competing with television and Hollywood professionals. Student entertainment expectations are too high to match on a daily basis.
Inventing games to help slide new information into the student’s brains does nothing to impress him that it will take self-discipline to concentrate and solve future problems. Persevering until one succeeds is not being fostered.
Students have to be convinced that concentrating on things that society has deemed important opens up new worlds. The dosages of work given to a reluctant student in a particular area should be short and sweet. The exposure to difficult subjects for the child should end with success and be followed by an activity that is highly regarded by the student. As the child tastes greater facility in the formerly distasteful subject the child should be made aware that his feeling for the subject is becoming more favorable.
Most children have a proclivity in language arts or the math area but rarely both. It is the teacher’s creative power that is needed to set up situations to show how to master simple fundamental skills. This builds the competencies of reluctant students in these more difficult skill areas. The mastering of these competencies enhances the child's self-confidence to try more challenging work. Once the student develops more competence in the subject he begins to rely more on himself and less on the teacher.
The best antidote for a child’s unwillingness and inability to pay attention to a task is not drugs but delayed gratification training. The individual’s simple success in a difficult area for him is essential in beginning this process. An authority figure begins with breaking down the task into small simple steps. As the child’s ability to perform increases in complexity he learns the answer he seeks will occur by first defining and observing the problem. The higher his level of expectation for completing a task, the more the person gains patience in searching for the answer. His willingness to accept the fact that he needs additional time to come up with the answer is delaying the gratification of completing the activity. Delaying immediate gratification for a greater payoff down the road is a necessary trait of maturity.
Discerning people cannot accept the narrative that we have a sudden explosion of defective children with an inability to be attentive. They would be more likely to agree our lack of childrearing training and the instant gratification of our culture are the main culprits for this phenomenon. Attention deficit of our children is real but the solution is not chemical, it is training the child to carefully observe situations long enough to come up with a possible solution and test it to see if it works.
Nudging a student to pay attention by sugar coating a lesson is ignoring the real issue. Students have to realize the power of applying their mental energy is the most effective way to arrive at a solution. It will increase success in all of life’s tasks. The more the student sees the positive results of focusing on problem solving, the more he becomes an independent and strong learner.