According to Dr. Adam Gazzaley, neurologist and professor at UCSF, students perform at their highest level (memorizing facts and information for tests) when they successfully filter out all irrelevant information and stimuli. In other words, when they’re reading a passage or listening to a lecture without any distractions, they can fully comprehend the concepts and retain them. However, if they are distracted by text messages or other notifications popping up on their phones or computer screens (irrelevant information), these distractions will degrade their brain’s ability to process the important information and their performance on tests will be much lower.
Meditation or other mindful relaxation processes can help give students the break they need from over stimulation that they receive throughout the day. While that sounds great in theory, I don’t know about you, but I have real trouble meditating. The last time I “meditated,” it felt like E T E R N I T Y as I tried to “not think” or stop creating mental lists of all of the things I’d rather be doing than meditating. Then when I opened my eyes and looked at the clock, I was disappointed that only 45 seconds had passed. Ugh.
So, instead I find that for those who can’t or won’t meditate, face-to-face meaningful engagement is the ticket. By talking with our kids about things that are important to them, or you, they learn how to filter out distractions (texts, notifications, TV shows) as you model how to handle them. Yup, that requires that you, too, learn how to filter out distractions. Show them that you don’t have to check your phone or respond to a notification while you’re engaged in this conversation. Ignore them or turn them off without reading them. Wouldn’t Miss Manners of the past have put her nose up to people who would be so rude as to have another conversation with someone during a conversation? So rather than patiently waiting while your kids respond to distractions, teach them to filter them out by modeling that behavior. It might be easier to simply turn off the distractions during the conversation to let your kids see how nice it is to have these interesting interchanges.
Just last week I had an enlightening conversation with my daughter Jaclyn. She was visiting for the weekend and we sat and talked for about 45 minutes without interruption about her long-term goals with her job, her MBA program, and buying a home. I learned more about how she was feeling and she learned about my perspective on them. During the previous week, we had texted, emailed and called one another at least 50 times to discuss dates, times, lists, and factual information. Between our crazy busy schedules we know we have about 10 seconds to communicate our thoughts before I have to go into session with a client or she has to rush off to class or work. While it’s nice to be in touch with her constantly via technology, it was such a great time to bond with her about these big decisions she’s facing in a deep conversation.
We know we can’t cut out technology – we actually need it – but we can create times where we can have long, meaningful conversations with our kids. Try starting this while driving long distances in a car or eating dinner around the dining table. Turn off the music, phones, and TVs and open up the conversation. Just once a day will give the kids a break from overstimulation and allow them to focus on something interesting. Then, create a No Music/Phone/TV Zone while they do homework, and you’ll see a marked improvement in their ability to learn and retain information. This will improve their grades at school.