By Dr. Rob Furey
Saint Louis Priory School Counselor
Wherever you find teenage boys, you will find parents wondering if their sons have attention problems. Their concern is understandable. Most adolescent males could stand to improve their ability to focus.
Nature will help. As his brain matures, his executive functioning (i.e. self-control) should improve. Staying away from head injuries (seatbelts, please) and street drugs will also help.
Attention, like other forms of self-regulation, operates like a muscle. The more you use it, the stronger it gets. Reading, for instance, builds the muscle. If you are looking for Christmas or birthday presents for your son, include a gift certificate to a bookstore or a subscription to a healthy magazine he might actually read. Anything you can do to encourage reading will benefit the lad.
Every now and then, respectfully ask your son to repeat what you just said to him. This will help him focus on what he is hearing (another muscle builder). And, by the way, improving his listening skills will make life much easier for your future daughter-in-law.
Focusing his attention means overcoming distractions. This is where it starts to get more complicated. There are two fundamental forms of distractions: sensory and emotional. Your son may be pulled off task by one or the other or both.
Sensory distractions can be sounds, smells or other sensations. A sensory distraction could be a bird in the window or the ping indicating a new text has arrived. These distractions are typically external stimuli. Emotional distractions, on the other hand, are not usually evident to others and can be even more difficult to tune out. They are the feelings your son has toward a girl or the effects of a break up. They may be worries about his parents fighting or concerns about his future. Emotional distractions live in your son’s inner world.
Helping your son focus his attention may be as simple as asking him what’s on his mind or it may require some professional help. Some distractibility problems are rather easily assuaged; others can be quite intractable. We will continue with this issue in the weeks ahead.
Next week: What is ADHD anyway?