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Boys and Their Tunnel Vision

Boys and Their Tunnel Vision

Brain research can be difficult for many people to comprehend. I tend to do better with concrete visuals. Although you cannot generalize about all men or all women—everyone is a bit different—one analogy I’ve particularly found helpful over the years compared men (or male brains) to waffles and women (or female brains) to spaghetti.[1] In this analogy, each man is like a waffle on a plate. That one waffle is made up of many distinct boxes, and each man has a tendency to camp out in a single box, highly focused on whatever activity is inside that box. In order to move from task to task, he must make the effort to climb out of one box and into another. The effort is not seamless. A woman, on the other hand, is like spaghetti on a plate. The noodles intertwine and connect with each other, allowing for relatively easy transition from one activity to another.

I’ve seen this in my own life. I can be talking to my wife, LaFon, about one situation, and she has the capacity to bring in four or five additional details from things she’s learned that provide context and contribute to the discussion. Her ability to connect the dots is amazing. On the other hand, if I’m in the midst of concentrating on a task, the building could fall down around me and I’d probably be unaware.

I remember talking to a female friend who became convinced that her husband was routinely ignoring her. In the evening, after spending the day apart, she would want to catch up with her husband or talk through a problem. Often, however, if her husband was watching television or reading, he would “ignore” her. Though she repeatedly said his name, he wouldn’t respond. She naturally assumed that he heard her and was making a conscious choice to disregard her, which she found incredibly irritating.

I doubted this man was intentionally ignoring his wife. “He’s not ignoring you,” I suggested. “He’s probably just concentrating on whatever he’s doing.” She seemed shocked at the idea that he wasn’t able to switch gears, as she called it, as easily and quickly as she could. Somewhat embarrassed, she even confessed to counting seconds in her head, waiting to see how long it would take for him to pay attention to her. The more time it took, the angrier she became. Needless to say, this was causing difficulties in their marriage.

It appears that when boys—or men—are engaged fully in a task, they develop a sort of tunnel vision. This ability to concentrate has some advantages, as it allows for minimal disruption due to distractions and, presumably, increased productivity. Hyperfocus can be helpful, unless you’re the person trying to break through that wall of concentration.

Just watch a boy engaged in a video game.[2] His ability to focus is admirable and if called for homework or dinner, he may simply fail to respond. Is he being disrespectful?  Perhaps, but perhaps not.  Maybe he’s being focused and acting according to his nature. Of course, you still need to get his attention.  

Get His Attention Visually. When he’s focused and says he didn’t hear you, he probably didn’t. Instead of calling out to him from behind his back, walk into his line of sight and say, “I need to talk with you. Can you give me your attention?

Give Him More Time to Transition. Because he can get “stuck” in a single task, moving from one thing to another may not happen as quickly for him as for a girl.

Give Him A Deadline. He may say “Just a minute” when asked to disengage, but to him, a minute may not have the same meaning it has for you. In that case, go back and remind him to climb out of his task box of video gaming (or homework or reading or whatever) and transition into the task you have for him.

Understand Repetition. To you, he may be on that video game for what seems like an hour, doing the same thing over and over again. To him, however, by playing that same game level for an hour, he’s learning every single time he tries and fails. He’s not wasting an hour doing the same thing over and over; he’s making progress on accomplishing his goal.

Authored by Dr. Gregory Jantz, founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE and author of 36 books. Pioneering whole-person care nearly 30 years ago, Dr. Jantz has dedicated his life’s work to creating possibilities for others, and helping people change their lives for good. The Center • A Place of HOPE, located on the Puget Sound in Edmonds, Washington, creates individualized programs to treat behavioral and mental health issues, including eating disorders, addiction, depression, anxiety and others.

[1] Bill Farrel and Pam Farrel, Men Are Like Waffles—Women Are Like Spaghetti (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2001).

[2] Kevin Schut, “Can God Fit in This Machine? Video Games and Christians,” Christian Research Institute, https:// www.equip.org/article/can-god-fit-in-this-machine- video-games-and-christians.

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