Do you believe any of these behaviour myths?
There are a number of child behaviour myths that many parents and teachers accept without question.
Myths that seem to go unchallenged in the media or by politicians.
Myths that are accepted as fact - when in fact, they're not.
And this is unhelpful - because these ill-founded beliefs can cloud our thinking about what's really causing challenging behaviour in our classrooms.
And then we waste time and effort implementing the wrong strategies - and we don't see any impact in the classroom.
So let's avoid that frustration... and start exposing the 3 common myths that most adults believe about pupil behaviour.
Myth #1: Sugar makes children's behaviour worse
The myth: excess sugar drives hyperactive behaviour or leads to a ‘sugar rush’.
Both teachers and parents accept this idea as fact. It’s become part of our shared common-sense about child behaviour.
But contrary to popular belief, there’s no evidence that:
- Sugar affects children’s behaviour
- That ‘sugar rushes' even exist
To test this, researchers worked with families on experimental diets to study the effects of sugar on children’s behaviour.
Some children received a high sugar diet, and some received a diet high in artificial sweeteners. All of the diets were free from artificial food colourings, additives and preservatives.
Throughout the 3-week trial, scientists assessed the children’s behaviour (and cognitive performance).
There was no significant difference observed between any of the groups. A high sugar diet literally made no difference to the behaviour of the children compared to their behaviour at the start of the trial.
So why the belief that sugar affects behaviour?
It likely comes down to the environment where children are most likely to binge on sugary snacks: parties.
Parties are busy, loud, stimulating environments. This is what probably drives excitable (and sometimes out of control) behaviour. The sugar itself is neither here nor there.
…when researches combined the results of 31 trials conducted with adults, there was no evidence that consuming sugar led to a ‘sugar rush’ at all.
In fact, the opposite was true. Sugar consumption actually led to “decreased alertness and high levels of fatigue”.
The truth is: our bodies have evolved to carefully manage the amount of sugar that reaches our brains. Our bodies convert excess sugar into fat, rather than using it to drive hyperactive behaviour.
However... a poor diet in general has been shown to affect children’s levels of energy, focus and mood – and high sugar consumption may be one part of this.
(Of course, this may be different for children with allergies or specific health conditions around certain foods.)
Myth #2: Left brain, right brain dominance
The myth: children's abilities are dictated by whether they have a dominant left brain or right brain.
It's claimed that kids with a creative personality have a dominant right brain. Logical or mathematically able children have a dominant left brain.
(And as this is wired into your brain, this puts a limit on your abilities in either area.)
For a long time, particularly during the 1960s and 1970s, there was a belief that your personality was driven by which side of your brain was ‘dominant’.
And it’s true that some functions of your brain do sit in one of the two hemispheres of your brain.
But when we engage in any complex task - whether that's:
- Creative (painting a picture, writing a story)
- Logical (solving a puzzle, planning a journey)
…FMRi brain scans show that several areas of our brains light up and work together to complete the activity.
To put it another way: the different areas of our brain work together as a team - whether we're focussed on a logical or creative task.
And those areas don't change from person to person.
It gets worse for this myth.
In 2013, researchers scanned the brains of 1000 young people to look into this exact issue. They found no evidence of ‘sidedness’ between participants who tended to think more logically or creatively.
Left brain / right brain just didn’t stack up when analysed using modern brain scanning technology.
The truth is: It's not left brain or right brain - it's whole brain. You need your whole brain to complete tasks of any significance. And there's no evidence our personalities are driven by one side of the brain or the other.
So let's not label our children as left brained or right brained.
It's giving them limited beliefs that will impact negatively on what they believe they're capable of.
Myth #3: Screen time is making our kids stupid / inattentive / unable to integrate socially
The myth: The advent of smartphones is reducing our children’s ability to socialise, focus their attention or develop academically.
According to Ofcom, the amount of time teenagers spend online has doubled in the last ten years (from 8 hours per week in 2005, to almost 19 hours per week in 2015).
And this has fed concerns amongst parents, teachers and the media that screens are fuelling a decrease in our children’s wellbeing.
But is it actually true? Is there any evidence?
In 2017, researchers looked at how 15 year-olds used screens and compared it to scores for their wellbeing:
- Moderate amounts of screen time were actually positive – it increased mental wellbeing
- Even at high levels, the impact of screen time had a very small impact in general – “about a third as bad as missing breakfast or not getting eight hours sleep"
Of course, when we look at general data, we stop looking at the needs of individual children.
For instance, another study showed that teenage girls who spent more than 5 hours a day online tended to show more signs of depression.
And children who are socialising almost exclusively online – because they have poor social skills and are avoiding in-person interaction due to anxiety – are not going to learn to integrate successfully in the ‘real world’ or develop those missing social skills.
But these groups already have existing problems and are using screen time as a coping mechanism.
Their unhealthy use of screen time is a result of a pre-existing need - so we can't assume their experience of screen time applies to all other children.
The truth: it depends on the age and needs of the child. But for most children, a moderate amount of screen time poses no threat and may actually have a positive impact.
But as with any pastime, screen time should exist within a balanced diet of activities that help our children to learn and grow.
Side note: evidence shows that infants do need real-world interaction with their parents. It teaches them how to form relationships, regulate their emotions and develop empathy. This is because the adult-child relationship forms a feedback loop which helps the child learn and grow.
And you can't get that from an iPad.
We can't believe everything we hear from the media, politicians and our colleagues.
Sometimes the evidence tells us a different story.
- Sugar doesn't cause hyperactive behaviour or 'sugar rushes' - our bodies are much more complex (and clever!) than that
- Left brain, right brain is an outdated concept. Our personalities are the result of different parts of our brain working collaboratively
- For most students, a moderate amount of screen at home can actually be beneficial - but it does depend on the age and needs of the individual child