Things Aren't Like They Used to Be...

Remember the good ole days when TV and radio were the chief outside influences on children and families? Well, we are about twenty years and one complete generation away from those times. As an educator, I often ask myself, “What has really changed in our children and society?” What has changed, in my opinion, is the amount of digital stimuli people are exposed to. With this exponential increase in devices, apps, and screens, we are witnessing a generation of children that is struggling with stimulation overload.

According to a Consumer Reports article, “Though the long-term effects of excessive gaming are unclear, research suggests that screen time at night may negatively affect sleep quality and amount. In addition, an analysis published in 2016 in the journal Pediatrics notes that early-in-life media use may contribute to poorer impulse control and mental inflexibility and that households where screens are used more heavily may communicate and function less well than other households.”

The following are signs that your child may be struggling with stimulation overload:

Attention control – the ability to concentrate, pay attention, and stay focused over an extended period of time. Children who have trouble with attention control are more likely to quit when tasks become too challenging (or too boring), and they may struggle with determining where to focus their attention.

Flexibility – the ability to switch between thinking about two different concepts, and the ability to think about multiple concepts simultaneously. Difficulties with flexibility often result in students struggling to look at situations from different perspectives, and problems navigating around unexpected obstacles.

Inhibiting impulses – the ability to resist impulses and to stop one’s behavior at the appropriate time. Children with difficulties in this area frequently have trouble considering the potential consequences of their actions before they act.

Organization – the ability to bring order to information and to appreciate main ideas or key concepts when learning or communicating information. Children who are described as disorganized often have difficulty imposing order; they have trouble starting tasks, planning and organizing information, prioritizing, sequencing and completing tasks.

Planning – the ability to set a goal and determine the best way to reach that goal, often through a series of steps. Children with planning difficulties often feel overwhelmed by large amounts of information. They may approach tasks in a haphazard fashion, and often get caught up in the details while missing the “big picture.” Children who are disorganized and struggle with planning often procrastinate and have poor time management.

Self-awareness – the ability to be aware of the effect that your behavior has on others (also referred to as self-monitoring). Children with poor self-awareness may also struggle with task monitoring, the ability to check one’s own performance during or shortly after finishing a task when pursuing a desired goal.

Self-control – the ability to appropriately modulate one’s actions and mood. Children with struggles in this area often have trouble with regulating emotions or exhibiting socially appropriate conduct.

Shifting attention – the ability to make transitions, tolerate change and switch or alternate one’s attention from one focus or topic to another. Children with shifting difficulties may have trouble considering alternative points of view, changing strategies when one strategy is not working, and considering alternative ways of solving problems.

Task initiation – getting started on tasks. Students with task initiation difficulties are often excited about projects, have great ideas they want to put on paper, but when they sit down to begin their work, they “just sit there” and don’t know where to start. These students may also be very slow in starting a task and when overwhelmed by the size; they may shut down and do nothing at all.

Working memory – the capacity to retain information in order to complete a task, encode and store information or generate goals. Children with working memory difficulties often have difficulty remembering things (e.g., school assignments left at home or at school). They may lose track of what they’re doing as they work, or forget what they are supposed to be doing when they are completing a task. Problems with working memory make children appear “forgetful,” despite having great long-term memory.

Although this area of study is only recently gaining the attention it deserves, it is bound to become an essential part of understanding young people in the 21st century. Executive function challenges are prevalent in five situations in which routine activation or behavior would not be sufficient for optimal performance. The five situations are as follows:

1. Those that involve planning or decision making

2. Those that involve error correction or troubleshooting

3. Situations where responses are not well-rehearsed or contain novel sequences of actions

4. Dangerous or technically difficult situations

5. Situations that require the overcoming of a strong habitual response or resisting temptation

If you believe that your child may have some of these challenges, please contact us for a consultation and assessment. Executive function skills can be developed, and with a consistent approach and a solid plan, we can unlock your child’s full potential.

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