Posts Tagged ‘ADD’

WIRED WEDNESDAYS: Attention Deficits & Digital Devotion

Wednesday, April 5th, 2017

Wired Wednesdays | Marcy Axness, PhD | Parenting for Peace


“We all understand the joys of our always-wired world — the connections, the validations, the laughs, the porn, the info. I don’t want to deny any of them here. But we are only beginning to get our minds around the costs, if we are even prepared to accept that there are costs.

“For the subtle snare of this new technology is that it lulls us into the belief that there are no downsides. It’s all just more of everything. Online life is simply layered on top of offline life. We can meet in person and text beforehand. We can eat together while checking our feeds.”

This from Andrew Sullivan in his New York Magazine article, “I Used to Be a Human Being,” chronicling his web addiction, recovery and reflections. The piece is extraordinary… and extraordinarily long. So, I aim to tease out excerpts from it to enrich the Wired Wednesday series.

Today, two aspects of digital dependence of particular concern for parents, related to attention deficits: these can have a deep and direct impact upon your developing child’s brain circuitry.

Digital Dependence and Attention Deficits

Andrew Sullivan:

“But of course, as I had discovered in my blogging years, the family that is eating together while simultaneously on their phones is not actually together. They are, in [writer Sherry] Turkle’s formulation, “alone together.” You are where your attention is. If you’re watching a football game with your son while also texting a friend, you’re not fully with your child — and he knows it. Truly being with another person means being experientially with them, picking up countless tiny signals from the eyes and voice and body language and context, and reacting, often unconsciously, to every nuance. These are our deepest social skills, which have been honed through the aeons. They are what make us distinctively human.”

Gabor Maté in his extraordinary book Scattered: How Attention Deficit Disorder Originates and What You Can Do About It, traces the connection between being present and attending — which he proposes is a fundamental, active form of loving. To attend to someone is to be present for them, attuned and responsive to exactly the kinds of social cues to which Sullivan refers.

Why does this matter all the more for parents? Because this is all about right hemisphere brain development and your child’s future success in pretty much every human endeavor! Through the weeks, months and years of attuned, responsive relational encounters between an infant / toddler / preschooler and a parent, the child’s self-regulating brain systems wire up… to mirror the relational style of the adult!

It is only with the presence of a healthily developed right hemisphere that we are able to be with another — to be present in the full and complete way that is needed by a child.  (We all know that feeling of talking to someone who just isn’t quite fully with us — as in the classic party conversation with someone whose eyes are darting around the room looking for who might be more interesting!)

Thus, suggests Maté, a child displaying the kinds of impaired self-regulating abilities that often lead to an ADD/ADHD diagnosis, for example, has suffered a deficit of attention when it was needed — in the early years. He concludes his book by pointing out that “The origins of the word attend is the Latin tendere, ‘to stretch.’ Attend means to extend, to extend, to stretch toward.

Maté concludes, “If we can actively love, there will be no attention deficit and no disorder.”

Digital Superficiality

I wrote earlier that one “subtle snare” of our digital dependence is that it offers us a digital imitation of reality, a pitfall whose human costs Sullivan deftly traces:

“By rapidly substituting virtual reality for reality, we are diminishing the scope of this interaction even as we multiply the number of people with whom we interact. We remove or drastically filter all the information we might get by being with another person. We reduce them to some outlines — a Facebook “friend,” an Instagram photo, a text message — in a controlled and sequestered world that exists largely free of the sudden eruptions or encumbrances of actual human interaction. We become each other’s “contacts,” efficient shadows of ourselves.”

On a visit to Stanford University, noted child psychologist David Elkind noticed that the architecture students – we’re talking the brightest of the bright! – needed to play with erector sets in class. Why? Because they hadn’t experienced enough hands-on play as children, and as a result, the sophisticated computer drafting technologies weren’t serving them. These play-deprived young adults didn’t have a real-world, three-dimensional frame of reference for the two-dimensional images on the screen. (See my Digital Imitation of Life post for a bit more on this.)

I see this as a deep and dangerous pitfall for a child who spends way more time in two dimensions on a screen than in three dimensions IRL (in real life). Because – as with toxicity tolerances of certain pesticides, etc. – it isn’t merely about quantity of exposure, but also about timing of exposure: an hour in two dimensions has a very different impact on a rapidly-developing brain whose social intelligence circuitry is yet incomplete, highly malleable, and wiring up in response to real-time experiences (be they 3D-human or 2D-digital), than it does on an adult whose social intelligence neural maps are long established and far less malleable. (Though adults’ brains definitely are vulnerable to rewiring in response to digital dependence! A post for another time…)

Sullivan suggests that

“…we are not completely helpless in this newly distracted era. We can, one senses, begin to balance it out, to relearn what we have so witlessly discarded…”

This beginning to balance it out is one of my main objectives for us together in this digital dependence exploration! And so on the two points highlighted in today’s post, two simple invitations for relearning:

  • When you are with another – especially your child – attend, in the fullest sense of that word: be present to take everything in, and to respond
  • Build balance and moderation into your child’s digital diet, making sure that his or her on-screen time is a small fraction of the time spent in hands-on, eyes-on, ears-on real-world engagement. (I’ll be delving in more detail into ideas for “dietary” guidelines on another Wired Wednesday, but for now a good start is to check out my “2 Great Guidelines for Mastery” of last week.)

 To read more about attachment neurobiology and Gabor Maté, see “Presence & Attachment: ADHD Treatment?

Whether you’re curious, captivated or concerned about our digital dependence and device devotion, join me on (most) Wednesdays so we can explore it together. (Sign up here if you want to be sure not to miss anything!) ….. …..

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On My Birthday…How Adoption is Unique

Wednesday, February 19th, 2014

Liz's last birthdayAs an adopted person, my birthday this week brings thoughts about my somewhat complicated entry into this world, thoughts about some ways that adoption is unique.

Before getting my degree and writing Parenting for Peace, my previous body of work explored the psychological and social issues in adoption. Understanding how adoption is unique can help bring healing and wholeness to everyone involved. {Read more at}


Presence & Attachment: ADHD Treatment?

Thursday, April 25th, 2013

We tend to throw around the word “attachment” a lot when talking about kids and parenting, so let’s make sure we’re all talking about the same thing: attachment is a measure of the security of relationship between a child and those one or two or three adults with whom that child is in consistent contact. We now recognize that healthy (secure) attachment is a fundamental form of nourishment for a child’s growing brain. In particular, attachment fosters rich circuitry in the area of the brain that mediates social and emotional functioning. A parent’s ability to be present for a child is fundamental to fostering this brain circuitry needed to regulate attention — therefore, basic ADHD treatment. Mounting research suggests that the social brain is the basis for the child’s lifelong success — in school, at home, and out in the world! (more…)

How Television Violence Affects Children

Sunday, December 16th, 2012

How Television Violence Affects Children | Marcy Axness PhDSo many questions in the wake of Newtown, and an excellent one is about how television violence affects children. As some of the wiser commentators have said, there is no one single reason (not just guns, not just mental illness, not just family dynamics) for a tragedy of such heinous proportions. The question of how television violence affects children is just one thread of the complex tapestry of causes in such tragedies as the Newtown massacre.

This tapestry surely finds its warp threads in the early days of a child’s life as the social brain is wiring up — during pregnancy, in infancy, toddlerhood and childhood. Important weaving also takes place in the equally tender developmental stages around adolescence. (more…)

Navigating Stress in Pregnancy

Sunday, November 18th, 2012

Navigating Stress in Pregnancy | Marcy Axness, PhDThe brain development needed to equip an individual with the kinds of qualities needed for peace and prosperity — self-regulation, creative innovation, mental flexibility, robust will — begins during pregnancy, and it isn’t just diet and lifestyle choices that influence it. A pregnant woman’s thoughts and moods have a significant impact upon the brain development of her baby in the womb.

Stress in pregnancy is associated with a daunting list of bad outcomes, but some basic “perception hygiene” can help pregnant moms navigate this reality. While I’m confident that scientists will soon “prove” what so many wisdom traditions and cultures have long known about the role of joy in optimally prenatal development, what we do now know for sure is that a pregnant mother’s chronic stress has enduring negative effects upon the developing fetal brain. (more…)

“Out of Everydayness”: How Adoption is Unique

Wednesday, November 7th, 2012

Before getting my degree and writing Parenting for Peace, my previous body of work explored the psychological and social issues in adoption. Understanding how adoption is unique can help bring healing and wholeness to everyone involved. Last weekend, as I basked in Hawaii’s soothing trade winds and the wisdom being shared at the Mid-Pacific Conference on Birth & Primal Health Research, I was inspired by the uniquely Hawaiian concepts of hanai and ‘ohana. These have to do with family connections that expand and expand, without anyone losing one’s own history. (more…)