How Macdonald’s ruined my diet
This Monday, I’m musing about the severe attention-deficit suffered by thousands of children and teens across the ‘first-world’ nations. The media is the biggest target-board, over-stimulation they say. But is it really the media? That’s like saying Macdonald’s ruined your diet, as if there weren't anything else to eat on this planet.
Being labelled a ‘hyperactive’ child thrice on my student assessment card, here are some of my questions –
1. Are kids really born with such a ‘deficiency’?
There are conditions like dwarfism, where a child is born with such a condition and is most likely going to live the rest of his/her life coping with that state. However, there are medical diagnosis that are more conditioned rather than born. For example, you wouldn’t say someone is born with depression. One is clinically diagnosed as a result of several signs and symptoms. Treatment is not limited to physical medication but emotions, past experiences etc., are extensively dealt with.
In the same way, I’m with the conditioning camp when it comes to attention deficit. When parents share that their child has this condition, I first ask and how much time do you spend with your child on a daily basis? If they do spend hours each day with their child, my next question would be and what do you do together?
If you spend five hours with your child, but half of that time is watching the television together. Well, that does not really qualify. It’s more like ‘parallel companionship’, both of you are doing the same activity side by side but there’s no interaction. You get the idea.
Deficit suggests a lack, there’s a shortage, but of what?
2. Can we blame parents?
Before we tackle the deficit, let’s also take a look at parents.
Many adults also suffer from ‘attention-deficit’, just observe the people in the train on the way to work. Having to wait is an impossible task. One fiddles with his phone, scrolling furiously away while another checks her manicure while tsk-ing impatiently at the never arriving train. Mother’s snap at their children for not keeping still while they themselves level up at ‘candy crush’, yet we see another youngster bobbing his head along with the latest album on his headphones. All of us, adults, in some form or other also suffer from attention-deficit.
Parents are sleep deprived and most are engaged in highly stressful work environments. No one helps them with their work, yet they are expected to produce results day after day. At home, they look forward to peace and quiet, but their child wants to play ball or watch a cartoon, there’s no rest there either. With less sleep and more tension, their deficit increases as well.
3. So, what is the deficit?
Professionals suggests that the deficit is social interaction and that is without a doubt crucial. After all we are social beings who depend on each other, whether we like it or not.
The deficit I find myself slanting towards is STILLNESS.
You might think it ironic that a hyperactive person like myself would propose such an idea, but listen, it’s really not that novel. I’ll let you in on a secret . . . how do I keep up with this hyper-activeness all day every day? I sleep almost nine hours every night, before I started work, I slept a whooping eleven hours a day.
But I’m not just talking about sleeping, I’m referring to being still.
When was the last time you had a cup of coffee and sat quiet without your smart phone? Or read a good book that did not require you taking notes in the margin or highlighting? Can you recall when you had a nice long uninterrupted conversation with your child?
‘I’ve got no time’ I hear you protest. But you have time to update your status on Facebook and like your friends pictures on Instagram don’t you?
4. Why does it affect mainly kids in the ‘first-world’?
That’s the easy part, but it’s the biggest problem.
They've got too much to do! School takes ¾ of their waking hours, followed by tuition or skills enrichment like music or dance lessons. When they get home there’s the TV or the tablet to play on. To top it all off they, much like adults, have their commitments to social media.
When I was teaching in the village schools, the older kids got up at dawn to do their chores and prepare breakfast. After school, they’d come home and play sports or do more chores. After which they might enjoy a sing-a-long session or finish their homework. Once the sun has set, it’s time for bed. They don’t sleep immediately of course, they might chat with their friends, fiddle with their toys or simply lie still until they drift off to sleep.
These village children in turn love school. They can sit through hours of lessons attentively and they do not need ICT* to engage them. When it’s time for recess, like regular kids, they run out and play to their fill. Then come back refreshed and ready for more.
Sure they have to do heavy chores and they do not have many gadgets to play with, but they do have the ability to keep still when necessary.
*ICT – Information Communication Technology, which is broadly used to refer to media stimulus such as video clips, animated slides and the like used in the Singapore classroom.
5. How then do we
Like the old cliché, ‘change begins with me’. As parents, teachers and even adults the change has to begin with us. If not the society, at least within our own homes.
I've learnt a lot observing J.G. as a matter of fact. After long stressful days, he’d go for a long slow jog and then sit quietly reflecting upon the day. On his off days, he takes his time. He intentionally switches the alarm off, and closes off any light source that might disturb his sleeping in. Sometimes I get home to see him just staring into space, when I ask what’s on his mind, he candidly shrugs and says nothing, just chilling. And if you've read the post on house rules, you already know that half an hour before bed time, smart phones are banned.
So, have a look around your home. What can you change to help you and your child be more attentive to everything that’s around you. Switch off some tech and turn on some conversation. Lie down with them in the dark and you’ll be surprised by what they are willing to share with you.