THE BLOG
11/04/2015 04:22 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Kids 'Zoning In' and 'Zoning Out'

Kids Who Get "In the Zone"

When kids "zone in" they get "in the zone" because they concentrate and focus very well when they are accomplishing something. They are often talented, creative, persistent at their tasks, and very good at what they do.

You may know a child who works on Legos for hours, following every instruction in the booklet, and then creating his own displays of vehicles, architectural feats, new settings with figures. He may or not be a good reader, but he can follow visual instructions with pictures to a tee and then generalize to making his own creations.

You may know an artist who from a young age can draw perspective, make portraits of people, create landscapes and still lifes in various media. They may take lessons or just create on their own. They work endlessly and happily enjoying their various well-developed creations. All these hours of work lead to increasing their skills well beyond their age level.

This is a girl or boy of any age who "zones in" effectively. They may be a bit irritable when you interrupt them because they are so passionate and intense on their project, but they tend to be polite and explain, "I'm just concentrating." If their parents prize these abilities and accept their child's hard working style, there is little conflict. These kids are very capable of interrupting themselves when they are needed to join in with family activities, but they may be a bit slow in leaving their work to comply. Once this is understood by all, there need be no arguments.

These kids are usually good students giving the same concentration to the subjects that interest them. They may not like rote assignments because they are creative and like to understand what they're doing, not just repeat what they've been told to memorize. But generally speaking, they get good grades, need little prompting to get work done, and are intelligent and persevering. They don't mind hard work because they revel in it. Who knows how they'll add to society as they grow older!

Kids Who "Zone Out"

This is a different kind of kid. This child or teen gets mesmerized by action videos and TV. They can watch these shows for hours tied to the screen. They tend to use the screen shows to avoid and procrastinate when they have work to do. It's hard to get them to stop. In fact, this intense watching may relax them if their anxiety is high.

They may not be willing to share the video with others, although they may also watch in groups, each viewer as involved as the next. In fact, these viewers may seek each other out because they share this common interest. They can get testy when a parent tries to turn it off to have them focus on other things like homework, chores, or coming to dinner.

This child or teen is generally not being creative. They watch the same shows over and over and if they are playing a game, they may increase their skills at, for example, shooting down an enemy. The shows don't usually encourage higher level thinking, but focus on good and bad, winner and loser, heroes and enemies, bullies and victims. This is "black and white" thinking. It is uncomplicated and the directions are learned in a rote way.

If this "zoning out" becomes problematic because it creates arguments and conflicts with others who might want to use the screen to watch something else, or they have other priorities to attend to that they avoid, then parents need to draw the child's attention to what is happening.

Here are a few tips:
1. Tell your child he is ignoring others and hurting their feelings. You want him or her to think of others.
2. Help them prioritize the other tasks they need to do like homework, chores, visiting with friends and family before they get hooked on a show.
3. Share with them how the themes of the shows tend to be the same: they focus on good and bad guys. This raises their awareness. Let them know that people are more complicated than that and you don't want them stuck in that way of thinking because it's limiting their ways of viewing human beings

If you have experiences with kids who "zone in" or "zone out" please leave comments here so we can discuss this as parents.

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Laurie Hollman, Ph.D. has a new book, Unlocking Parental Intelligence: Finding Meaning in Your Child's Behavior, on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Familius and wherever books are found.
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