Health Day - ONLINE EDITION

Your Kids May Not Be Ignoring You on Purpose

Children focused on other tasks 'blinded' to what's going on around them, study says

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FRIDAY, May 2, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Children and young teens are more likely than adults to focus on simple things so much that they become blinded to their surroundings, a new study says.

The researchers said children age 14 and younger probably aren't trying to frustrate their parents on purpose. Instead, it seems that children lack what's known as "peripheral awareness." And, that means they could become so distracted by something as simple as an ad on a bus or a loose thread on a piece of clothing that they're unaware of traffic and other dangers when walking down the street, the study authors said.

The study's findings could also explain why children focused on a book, game or television show appear to ignore parents or teachers, according to the research team at University College London in England.

The researchers tested peripheral awareness in more than 200 people of different ages and found that adults did much better than children and young teens.

"That children have much less peripheral awareness than adults has important implications for child safety," study leader Nilli Lavie, a professor of psychology at the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience at University College London, said in a university news release.

"Parents and [caregivers] should know that even focusing on something simple will make children less aware of their surroundings, compared to adults. For example, a child trying to zip up their coat while crossing the road may not be able to notice oncoming traffic, whereas a developed adult mind would have no problem with this. The capacity for awareness outside the focus of attention develops with age, so the younger children are at higher risk of 'inattentional blindness.' "

Lavie continued: "For the same reason, if you can't get your child's attention when they're engaged in something, then it might be wrong to assume that they are intentionally ignoring you. If they don't respond when you ask them to stop playing a game or point to a potential hazard... it may be that their brain simply never registered it."

The findings were published online April 23 in Frontiers of Human Neuroscience.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention outlines the ABCs of raising safe and healthy kids.

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