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Five Strategies to Prevent Gen Z from Being a Distracted Generation

Ah, we’re entering Oscar season again, where filmmakers and performers are awarded by the Academy for their work. It reminds me of what happened last year.

Do you remember the fiasco that happened a year ago?

It was at the 2017 Oscar Awards that one of the biggest mistakes in its history was made. The winner for the best picture was announced from the stage….and it was wrong. “La La Land had not actually won, it was “Moonlight.”

How could such a thing happen with a company like Price Waterhouse Cooper in charge of computing and communicating the results? Well, it’s actually simple. The man backstage handing the envelope to Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway gave them the wrong one. He got distracted posting a photo on social media.

This is a picture of a larger reality today.

Distractions, Distractions for Generation Z

We live in a day when almost everyone is distracted by the multiple realities taking place around us. It’s not uncommon for me to walk into a room, and suddenly wonder why I even entered it. While Millennials multi-task on two screens, Gen Z multi-tasks on five. Some states have outlawed texting while driving. People, young and old, are constantly talking, messaging and scrolling social media feeds. Our Department of Motor Vehicles reports that when do it while driving it affords the same level of distraction as DUI. Speaking of a broader context, Sabastian Thrun once said, “almost all accidents take place due to human distraction.”

If we’re honest, we’d have to admit most of us suffer a little from Attention Deficit Disorder. It’s especially true for our young. The students in our focus groups told us they suffer from both FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) and FOLO (Fear Of Living Offline). According to MediaKix, “Generation Z grew up with a smartphone, and it is estimated that 96% of Generation Z owns a smartphone…the importance of smartphones in Gen Z lives is reflected in their attitude towards smartphone ownership. Individuals in Gen Z are 4 times more likely than Millennials to believe that age 13 is the appropriate age for a first smartphone.”

A Pew Internet and American Life Project Report surveyed middle school and high school teachers and saw astonishing results. It was difficult to hold the attention of a young teen for even a half a minute. Another study involving the same age group (from Generation Z) analyzed study patterns. It also found these students are highly distracted and in fact, calls this population of kids the “distracted generation.”

Five Strategies to Prevent Distraction

I’m concerned we are now raising our children (students) in a day where they have little chance of really focusing on one item at a time. Unless, of course, they become counter cultural. Below are five steps I’ve taken with students to prevent distraction.

1. First, begin with a discussion on the greatest distractions they face.

I’ve done this exercise with high school and college students, finding they’re quick to admit the realities of a distracted life. They laugh as they confess addiction to mobile phones, social media and Netflix. Facilitate a fun and non-threatening conversation where they “admit” and list the enemies of focus and concentration.

2. Second, explore the data on the consequences of distractions.

After naming the distractions, I came armed with articles that included research on the negative impact of distractions in our lives. It wasn’t just about kids, either. It was all of us. Megan Daum wrote, “We use our gadgets for distraction and entertainment. We use them to avoid work while giving the impression we’re actually working hard.”

3. Outlaw “phubbing” among students.

Before establishing any other policies, our student community decided to eliminate “phubbing.” Have you heard the term? It’s snubbing someone with your phone. In public places, the easiest way to avoid genuine conversation is to look down at your phone (even standing next to someone) and never talk. We made this a no-no.

4. Next, determine what context and time periods are “phone free.”

In Meeting Four, we made decisions. I actually believe healthy living (for adults and students) requires certain contexts where we eliminate devices. Many teachers do this in their classrooms; coaches do this at practices; parents do it at dinnertime. The key is to invite the students into this conversation and decision.

5. Finally, empower students to police the enforcement of undistracted time.

The only way for this to work is for the students to “own” the decision. They must hold each other accountable and become responsible for healthy habits. This ignites metacognition within the students, which inspires and motivates. While most will fail at first, they must not abandon the standard they set for healthy living.

Tom Kite accurately noted, “You can always find a distraction if you’re looking for one.” The key is to teach students to lead themselves. It’s step one on the leadership journey. Vivienne Westwood put it well: “”… because you need to be alone to find out anything.”

Are you ready to set an example for an undistracted life?


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Five Strategies to Prevent Gen Z from Being a Distracted Generation