Finding Focus at 30 Feet Up
The struggle to get our children to focus in a noisy, technology-soaked world bedevils every parent. We all know that we are commanded to help them focus on homework, a game, a book, or even on what we are saying to them. And yet, being children, their minds wander from topic to topic. For several years, my wife and I have tried to beat back technological intrusions in the pursuit of focus. Not very well, I’ll concede; our daughters have tablet computers. They know how to unlock our phones and play games, and they watch movies when we sleep on weekend mornings.
But we don’t quit trying, and our attempts sometimes take us to interesting places. An idea struck me while driving one day: Rock climbing! Rock climbing would be a great activity for kids. It requires focus, and even a fake cliff face is devoid of screens. So I stopped at a rock climbing gym and found an unrecognizable world from today’s media blitz: The gym consists of plastic rock formations knotted with various plastic knobs. Everywhere, pairs of climbers — one on the wall, one in support — worked together to help one another climb the rock wall.
This is it, I thought.
My daughter and I went on a recent Saturday morning, and it turns out I was right: Dear reader, there is nothing more focus-intensive than being 10 meters off the ground, clinging to the side of a wall. You are aware of nothing other than what your arms and legs are doing at that very moment. You do not think about email, shopping lists, or movies. You simply think, “How do I not fall off this wall?”
At least, that’s how I approached the wall. But I wondered if my daughter would go it the same way. Indeed, she did! Instead of shrinking away, worried about the height, she zipped up and down the routes, climbing to the top numerous times. As I stood on the ground, watching her and belaying the rope, one particular moment struck me: She had climbed up about 30 feet off the ground and had become completely stuck. She could have quit and gently been lowered to the ground. Instead, she patiently worked her arms and legs back down several feet to try a different route. All told, it took her 10 minutes, maybe more, of focused climbing to get to the top.
You may say at this point, “Ten minutes, who cares?” but I offer you this challenge: Set a timer for 10 minutes and sit staring at a wall. See if you can focus uninterrupted on such a simple task for that long. I didn’t think so.
When she reached the top, the exhilaration of accomplishment was clear on her face. She had pushed herself beyond her previous limits.
You never know what your children will actually respond to, even if you’ve seen how they react to other activities. I was convinced my daughter would either dislike rock climbing on a logical basis (it’s scary), or just discard it as another thing to interfere with her TV-watching. Instead, at the end of each session, she makes me promise to take her back.