Often when people say a kid has an attention problem, they really mean he has a problem pretending to give a shit about things that bore himI saw this retweeted this morning, and at the time of writing, it had 48 retweets. It comes from @demand_euphoria. I don't follow her and I have no idea what the context of this tweet is, so I'm not writing this to engage with her or her intent, or to have a go at her. I'm more interested in the idea that it expresses, because I think it floats about a lot. I also think, when taken completely seriously, it's a huge problem.
The development of attention is really only about things one finds boring - paying attention to something you find fascinating is rarely a problem. (Although there might be great variability between how long different people can hold that attention. From a functional point of view, one needs only to be able to stay focussed for long enough to do something useful. I recognise that there may be conflict between the optimal attention span of any given person, and the requirements of classrooms.) The implication in the idea expressed above is that the fault lies with the material if it's boring. Last year, I heard so much about making classes interesting I was starting to wonder if we were being trained to be teachers, or circus performers. I do have some sympathy for the argument - if I had my druthers, I'd rip huge swathes of boring, unnecessary crap from the junior science syllabus in NSW.
However, we simply can't excise all boring stuff from our lives. There are excellent reasons to automate times tables, for example, but doing so is boring. Housework is boring. I can't imagine that there's ever been a profession anywhere that has no component which is life-suckingly dull. One of the main objectives of childhood is to learn how to apply yourself to stuff that needs to be done, in order to be able to get on with the genuinely interesting stuff. This isn't just a function of school, it's a property of life.
I would suggest that a child who has a problem giving a shit about stuff he/she finds boring has a lot to learn about life - which is ok, she/he is a child, learning is what it's all about. It's our job as parents to help them learn it, and not decide that the world needs to stop being dull for the sake our child. Explaining why boring stuff is important is the first step. Providing tricks to manage the boring can help too - like listening to music while cleaning, setting mini goals, or giving yourself personal rewards for ploughing through the dull stuff.
Learning to pretend to give a shit about the stuff you find boring IS what developing attention is all about. Understanding what kids have a problem with and supporting them where they are to get to where they need to be is what parenting and teaching is all about. Making excuses and blaming the world for being what it is doesn't help anyone.
(Please note, once again, that I'm not suggesting @demand_euphoria is making excuses or anything else, her tweet just triggered this more general observation.)