Thursday, October 13, 2011

Attention Must Be Paid ... Right?

"One thing at a time, all things in succession."

This quote is by American poet Josiah Gilbert Holland. Although he was a nineteenth century descendent of the original Puritans, his advice echoes that of Tibetan Buddhists and local yoga teachers. Mindfulness. Being in the moment. Focusing on only one thing.

Clearly Holland was not a tween girl in 2011.

Eighth grade is a challenging year. Homework volume continues to increase. There is more emphasis on scores and tests, papers and projects. And, although technically college admissions officers won't see my daughter's grades, there is a feeling that it's all starting to count now. How she performs in this last year of middle school will determine what honors and AP classes she qualifies for in high school ... which will influence what colleges she applies to ... which will point her in the direction of a graduate program or career ... which will set the course for the whole, entire, complete, total rest of her life.

Oh my! I think I need a drink.

Seriously, to her credit, my daughter recognizes that homework is non-negotiable. She comes straight home each day (well, straight home via Starbucks or Dunkin' Donuts or a friend's house) and gets to work. Because I'm fortunate enough to run my business out of my home, I'm usually there to greet her, ask how school was (Answer: "Schoolish.") and prepare a very tasty, somewhat nutritious snack. She heads up to her room with her backpack.

When I check on her, here's what I find. Homework open on cluttered desk. iPhone strategically placed to receive incoming texts. Laptop on with Facebook and iChat open. Deafening music playing via YouTube videos, which means she has to stop and choose a new song every 3.5 minutes.

I feel as though my head will explode, and I'm not the one trying to complete a worksheet on early American exploration or conjugate the verb venir.

Of course, I'm an involved parent, so I immediately voice my concern. Of course, my daughter is a tween-going-on-teen, so she immediately poo-poo's said concern. "I'm fi-i-i-i-i-i-ine," she groans, as she simultaneously responds to a text and inputs her next song, barely taking her eyes off the homework sheet.

I used to be proud of my multitasking talents. Running a creative team, writing ad copy, managing our family's schedule. What a joke! My ability to do more than one thing at a time is strictly "amateur night" compared to my daughter and her generation. And, I know my age is showing, but I can't help it.

Will so much to do in so little time affect her ability to concentrate and succeed?

In the brave new world of instantaneous communication and social media, you are rewarded for the very behavior that traditional education attempts to train out of you. Accuracy, spelling, grammar ...? Who cares! Checking over your work? What a waste of time!

I can't help it. I want her to be able to study and learn, to take time crafting something and then take more time refining it until it is her very best. I want her to appreciate the satisfaction of a job well done. I want her to have an attention span slightly longer than that of a flea with ADHD.

But, given that each generation adapts to its own environment, maybe I'm projecting a little too much. While I once worked for high-powered men who still had secretaries and didn't know how to open email, my daughter will begin whatever career she chooses reporting to Gen-X execs, who grew up with PCs and evolved along with technology. Just as my bosses were impressed and eager to utilize my early adoption of Apple computing (I had my own Mac Plus in 1986 — it weighed 15 pounds and cost $3,000), her future supervisors may value her ability to connect to so many people, places and projects at once.

For now, we've agreed to some new rules. No Facebook and no iPhone until after homework is done. She can stream radio or iTunes on her computer while she works but the volume has to be low-to-moderate. She seems to understand these rules and we haven't had any major blow-ups over them. Not yet.

So, I take a big old mommy chill pill, breathe in, focus on this moment and this moment only. Ohm.

I have seen the future, and it can type really really fast.

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