Kids Ignoring You? They Can't Help It, Says New Research

14/08/2014 17:01 | Updated 20 May 2015

Kids ignoring parents

All too often at the moment I feel like The Invisible House Dad.

"How was your day, kids?"


"Tea's on the table."


"I've just asked you a QUESTION. Any chance of an answer?"

Plain, bloody ignorance.

"THERE'S A CAR COMING! Run faster across the road, for God's sake."

Scarily unresponsive.

It's as if I've become a non-person as far as my children, aged 12, nine and six, are concerned. Now, very often, my kids are engaging sorts.

They're focused on their friends, engrossed in books, captivated by computers. They chat away, they're animated, they're interesting and interested. Unfortunately, not with me – and increasingly so.

The older they get, the more insignificant I seem to become to them. Only yesterday, I took them to the local park after school and for the hour I was there I wondered: "Why am I here?"

Not in an existential way, you understand, but in an, 'I might as well not exist to my kids' kind of way.

Where once were cuddles, there are now limp-lettuce handshakes; where once they cracked up laughing as I danced in front of the telly, they now see right through me. Literally: like I'm a plate of glass.

Embarrassing Dad Dancing aside, does this sound familiar? If it does, we're not alone – it's also not our fault!

Because according to a new study, the kids can't help it.

Yep, researchers at the University College of London found that children under the age of 14 are so focused on the task at hand (challenging their brother not to step on the cracks in the pavement while an old lady on a Shop Mobile hurtles towards them, for example) that they won't allow any new or exciting information to diffuse into their developing brains (you know, exciting as in: 'Have you done your homework yet?' or 'Why is it MY job to pick your dirty underpants off the floor?' or 'Your mother's home from work – could you PLEASE turn off the Xbox and say Hello?' Or - by far the worst with the oldest two - 'You do know how much me and your mum love you, don't you?').

This is because they have got more important things to worry about (important as in, 'That Minecraft zombie must DIE' and 'How many beans can I balance on my knife?' and – in the case of the 12-year-old girl – 'Then she said, like, and I was, like, Uh-Uh, and she was, like, No Way, and I was like, Yes Way, and she was like, Whatevahh').

In other words: don't take your children's obliviousness to your existence personally because, according to the study, they're simply struggling to process their surroundings.

Kids under 14 are 'blinded' to their surroundings when focusing on simple things, it says.

The findings suggested that even something simple like looking at a loose thread on a jumper or an advert on the side of a bus might be enough to make children 'blind' to oncoming traffic and other dangers when walking down the street.

The research, published in Frontiers of Human Neuroscience, could also explain why children engrossed in a book, game or television programme appear to ignore parents or teachers.

Professor Nilli Lavie of the UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, who led the research, said: "That children have much less peripheral awareness than adults has important implications for child safety.

"Parents and carers 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'.

"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 and it may be that their brain simply never registered it."

To test peripheral perception across different age groups, over 200 visitors to the Science Museum in London took part in experiments as part of the Live Science programme.

They were asked to judge which line in a cross shape was the longest in seven trials. In the seventh, a black square outline flashed up on the screen and participants were asked whether they noticed it or not.

Task difficulty was adjusted by changing the difference in line length, with a smaller difference representing a higher difficulty.

Adults were able to consistently spot the square most (over 90 per cent) of the time for both moderate and low difficulty tests, whereas children's performance was far worse.

Younger children had significantly lower awareness, with fewer than 10 per cent of 7-10 year olds spotting the squares during the moderate task and only around half spotting them during the easy task.

There were no differences between the two difficulties for adults, since both tasks were relatively simple, showing that young children are particularly prone to inattentional blindness.

Got that? Good. What it means in a nutshell is this: the next time you ask your children to tidy their room and they look through and past you, it's because they've got other things on their mind.

Such as how annoying you are!


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