Technology and School: The Power and the Peril

It is a new school year with new opportunities for your child to grow, but the cyber world could get in the way. Today’s electronic amusements captivate the minds of young people, leaving the comparatively mundane rhythms of school in the dust. Even the best teachers struggle to hold the attention of children who are entranced by the instant and multifaceted gratification offered by video games, cell phones, iPods and the Internet.  The brains of today’s children are tuned to a different channel.  Some of us have brains, on the other hand, that make us susceptible to tech addiction.

When I grew up in the seventies, the pace of life instilled patience. There was no television before 8am. I remember waking up with my brother on Saturday mornings to watch the colored bars on the TV, as we patiently, albeit with great anticipation, awaited the start of our weekly four-hour-cartoon marathon. There were so few TV offerings that when Charlie Brown television specials aired, everyone in school watched them and talked about them the next day. Children now have an endless array of electronic entertainment opportunities and waiting is not required.

Cyber adepts are often creative and highly intelligent people. The great danger is that they will lose themselves in cyber land and not develop their social and intellectual skills. They also risk a sedentary lifestyle. Interestingly, research suggests that high rates of physical activity in boys correlates with higher grades in school.   I give parents a 10-question quiz to help them determine if a problem exists.   Three or more of the following could indicate a problem:

  •       Time warp: inability to determine time spent in cyber activities.
  •      Changes or disruptions in sleep.
  •      Withdrawing from family and friends.
  •      Losing interest in other hobbies and recreational activities.
  •      Spending more than three hours a day.
  •      Physical pain: backache, carpal tunnel syndrome, nerve pain, eye strain.
  •      Emotional disturbance when access to the cyber world is taken away.
  •      Withdrawal symptoms like headache, malaise, light-headedness.
  •      Continued excess despite serious adverse consequences.
  •      Ever-increasing amounts of time in the cyber world.

When children make their way to me in my practice as an academic coach, three-fourths of the time their poor grades are accompanied by excessive cyber activities (i.e., three or more of the above symptoms). I often discover that children had been texting prolifically during the school day and not, as a result, been paying attention during class. Young people are remarkably clever at concealing their phones.  In many cases, I have had students come to me who seemingly had sleep issues, only to find that late night gaming and Internet use kept them from slumber. Some play fantasy games like World of Warcraft until the wee hours of the morning, while others stay in touch with friends on Facebook, Twitter, and texting.  Parents are usually shocked to learn of their children’s nocturnal activities as well as the full scope of what goes on during the school day.

For many kids, access to cyber privileges can be a potent motivational carrot. It is not easy to find such tools with children, so I encourage parents to take full advantage. If you are an involved-enough parent to realize your child spends too much time in cyber land, you will probably agree that other responsibilities at home and school get neglected.  The solution to this situation is simple:  link cyber privileges to successful completion of chores, fulfillment of responsibilities, and performance in school.

If you get involved when they are young, you will help ensure that the cyber world enhances your child’s potential for success instead of destroying it.


The ADHD brain is supremely tuned to respond well to novelty and excitement, but is an exceedingly poor performer when things get routine, predictable, and yes, boring. Our lives are like the movie, Ground Hog Day, and many of us have similarities to the character played by Bill Murray. When the same stimuli come at us day after day, we actually can persist in extraordinary ways, but only when we have something extraordinary, like Andy McDowell in the movie, to motivate us. I have had two books published and let me tell you, ADHD and finishing anything, let alone a full-length book, do not go well together. The only way I finish things is, first of all, to complain to lots of my friends about how horrible it is that I cannot finish anything. They yell at me and this helps temporarily keep me on track. Then I get embarrassed and ashamed the next time I fall into a funk, and often choose to suffer in silence, rather than get yelled at again. The cycle repeats. But I also have a big bag of tricks that, while they do not always work, sometimes have the power to pull me out of the apathetic funk I struggle with each and every day.

Trick #1: Back Away from the Computer.
This one is simple; even though I am in funkland, there is a voice inside of me that says, “You can get out of this.” The first step is to listen to that voice and leave the computer. The cyber world to an addiction-prone ADHDer like me is a sweet candy that when I overindulge puts me in a cyber-coma. When I am sitting in front of the screen, I can cyber-meld; my anxiety and frustration temporarily vanish. But I get nothing done, and end up feeling like crap later on. GET AWAY FROM THE SCREEN. NOW!

Trick #2: Move!
When I hear that voice, it’s time to move. I have to get up immediately and just interrupt the pattern. Here are a few activities I might do at that time: drive to Tim Horton’s and get a coffee; take a 20-minute, fast-paced walk, the whole time brainstorming ideas and taking notes on my phone (My brain seems to work better in motion); go to the food court at the local mall with a notebook and write down whatever comes to mind; drive to the Detroit Institute of Arts (Diego Rivera is an old reliable source of funk busting for me). JUST BREAK THE PATTERN AND MOVE.

Trick #3: Phone a Friend.
I am often at my worst when I am isolated and alone, yet for some reason, I resist reaching out. I am going to take this opportunity to admit that the old AT&T jingle, “Reach out, reach out and touch someone,” used to make me cry. I think I had such a strong emotional reaction because I have a hard time reaching out. I still struggle with this, but when I get over whatever it is that happens to be holding me back, calling a friend works because I often get my greatest creative developments when I am sharing my ideas with someone else (don’t share your ideas with people who bring you down, which is what I used to do). If you want to succeed with ADHD, you need support, and plenty of it. SUPPORT. SUPPORT. SUPPORT.

Trick #4: Use Your Anger.
People ask me how I, a highly distractible adult with serious problems of persistence, managed to complete two books and get them published. The answer is simple: anger. ADHD people, we have anger and frustration in overabundance. Those emotional experiences, however, represent energy. We have to learn to use that energy to our advantage. While I am willing to admit my shortcomings, I have become a master of channeling negative emotional states. My good friend, Doug, who I grew up with, said, “When you do dishes, clean your house, or any mundane job, it is as if the task is an enemy, someone you hate and who you can vanquish if you just put all of your energy into it.” Negative emotional states are opportunities. CHANNEL YOUR EMOTIONS TO GET THINGS DONE!

Trick #5: Stay on Target.
As I sit here now, trying to finish this blog post, here are some of the voices in my head:
• You’re almost done, why don’t you just play a video game and then you can come back to it.
• Five tricks might be too many for one blog post, maybe you should cut it to four.
• This is a great start, and you never finish anything the first run through. TAKE A BREAK.
• I wish I was in London right now.
• I hate cold coffee.

This is what happens to me. I call it “snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.” I have that saying posted on the wall and am looking at it right now. I have it there to remind me that this is what I have done time and again in my life. When I look at that saying, I am reminded of all the great ideas that I did not bring to fruition, which then irritates me. Right now, I am channeling that irritation back into this writing. STAY ON TARGET!

In the coming weeks, I will be elaborating on each of these points. My intention is that I will support you in your own productivity by honestly sharing the pitfalls in my own life. I am not a guru; I am a fellow traveler who likes to compare notes with others!

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