Youth attention spans

Youth attention spans

     In any given timeframe, the toll of distractions begging our attention is hefty: the bell signaling a new e-mail, text messages, cell phone calls, follow alerts and friend requests.

     I recently came upon a few studies, some already a couple years old, that suggest the upcoming generation will have concentration, impulsiveness and restlessness caused by various entertainment and social media use. Though these studies don't directly affect the officers on the streets now, I took these facts in as food for thought about what they might mean a few years down the road.

     A 2004 study reported in USA Today noted that experts believe the amount of TV kids watched may affect the way their brains are wired. Another media study suggests our nation's attention span is deteriorating as technology, and our immersion in it, is ever-increasing.

     Though I generally steer away from these types of media-plague conspiracy theories, the thought of the young minds — whose attention spans are, depending on the study, between 5 (the London Telegraph in 2008 and in 2010) to 10 minutes (BBC News online in 2010) — climbing behind the wheel or setting foot in a public safety training course is worth a ponder. How we educate and train that generation may be vastly different that the methods in current use. For example, Lindsey Bertomen, our Firearms Tactics specialist, has already addressed that "the training paradigm has changed" in his recent recruits. ("Using drones," September 2009.)

     A National Highway Traffic Safety Administration research note released in September 2009 emphasizes we've still got a problem: Driver distraction was reported to be involved in 16 percent of all fatal crashes in 2008, and the group with the greatest proportion of distracted drivers was the kids under 20.

     Though media pundits are still theorizing on the affect the fast paced social and media-rich world will have on our growing generation, driver inattention has long been trouble, and handheld, portable electronic devices just add more options to the list of things that divert the driver's focus.

     Correlation is not causation; but with figures like the nearly 1/4 of injury crashes involving distracted driving, the issue still demands some of our nation's distracted awareness.