Regular Life

Regular Life

In three words I can sum up everything I've learned about life: it goes on. – Robert Frost

Fighting Attention Problems

We have stopped using the TV at our house on weeknights. Well, let me back up a step. We do not turn on the television before our son goes to bed.

Baby steps, people.

This is part of our effort to hit our son’s attention deficit disorder (ADD) from the environmental angle. Included in that is controlling things in his diet like artificial colors and added sweeteners (natural and artificial). I’m not saying we have completely cut those things, but when even my wife is reading ingredient labels before purchasing, I know we’re making progress.

After just one week, his bedtimes already have gone more smoothly.

I am proud to say, also, that the few times he has emerged from his bedroom this week to use the bathroom, he has looked down the hallway to catch us reading and playing Solitaire, not watching TV. It surely must be easier to enforce a rule when you yourself follow it.

Easier, too, when favorite shows like “Downton Abbey” and “Breaking Bad” are not showing new episodes.

It isn’t that we planted our son in front of the television or stuffed him with Skittles prior to these intiatives. On the contrary, he always prefers playing with friends in the neighborhood over anything else, and rarely eats candy. Sometimes, however, we would allow television after school if he had all his homework done and there was nobody available to play with him. From the food angle, I was surprised at some products that use artificial colors.

I also don’t want to come across as saying that TV causes attention problems, although there are conflicting rather than consensual reports on that claim. This seems to hinge on what age the television watching begins. I certainly believe it can aggravate what’s already there, and that for some children (and adults!) it is an unhealthy reprieve from real life. It’s one thing for an adult to use it as an occasional escape, versus letting children camp out in front of it before they have developed reading comprehension and social skills.

I had read at least 10 years ago that watching television stimulates the brain in ways that are not always conducive to calm behavior. Between then and now I also saw studies on artificial colors causing problems for those already predisposed to attention deficit, not to mention the potential cancer-causing effects. We decided to eliminate TV on school nights after a friend did the same and saw positive results in her ADD-afflicted son. Similarly, we started paying more attention to food labels after more than one friend saw fewer attention problems in their children.

We may not be trailblazers, but at least we try to be picky about whom we follow.

That brings me to whom the United States should follow. Why not err on the side of caution, as do many European countries? For one, Kraft Mac & Cheese in the United Kingdom is sold without artificial colors, but in the United States it is loaded with them. Likewise with M&M’s. If they consume these products in other countries, then what makes manufacturers think Americans wouldn’t?

Some companies are responding to consumers’ health concerns — sort of. For one, PepsiCo, already not using brominated vegetable oil (BVO) in Gatorade sold in Europe and Japan, has decided to pull the ingredient from that product in the United States. Sadly, however, they are replacing it with another artificial ingredient (sucrose acetate isobutyrate) that presents its own problems. That doesn’t impact our family because we don’t use Gatorade, but it is a good example of how hard it is to convince companies to go all the way with their efforts.

Aside from using only fresh ingredients and making everything from scratch (just not going to happen in our home), controlling what our family ingests is difficult, and I believe that companies already selling products without artificial ingredients in other countries should do better in the United States.

As far as television viewing time? That is strictly up to parents.

We’re just taking both of these problems day by day.

Further Reading:

Artificial Colors Linked to Behavior Problems in Children (2011)

F.D.A. Panel to Consider Warnings for Artificial Food Colorings (2011)

Food Dyes Suspected of Causing Behavioral Problems in Kids (2012)

PepsiCo Will Halt Use of Additive in Gatorade (2013)

Fixated by Screens, but Seemingly Nothing Else (2011)

There Is No Meaningful Relationship Between Television Exposure and Symptoms of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder

Study Finds Link Between Television Viewing And Attention Problems In Children (2004)

2 Responses to Fighting Attention Problems

  1. Wow, having trouble posting again!
    What bugs me, is the steroids they put in meat these days. Those steroids MUST come through to our own bodies.
    If I had to do it all over again, it’d be free range, steroid free meat for us.

  2. Mark, this is a very interesting essay. It stands to reason that slowing things down visually might help slow things down overall. I notice for myself that watching television at night makes it harder for me to sleep…Even reading on the Kindle (handy as it is) is not as conducive to sleep as reading an actual book. Good for you and Shannon, for trying to make your son’s environment work for, instead of against, him.


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