Is It OK to Let Your Children Multitask?

by Barbara J. Feldman on April 9, 2010

Today’s parents are often awe struck as they watch their children study surrounded by their computer, iPod and gaming system. It is not uncommon to see kids as young as 9 or 10 doing homework while logged onto their computer and answering Instant Messaging, as they listen to music on their iPod or MP3 player. When they do take a break, it’s usually to continue playing a computer game they want to finish. Most busy adults may consider themselves pros at multitasking; however, they may find their children outpacing them. For a generation of parents who grew up doing homework with perhaps a little background music, seeing their pre-teens downloading iTunes, texting their friends on their cell phones and surfing the Web, all while reading a book for English or studying for a math test can be overwhelming. So, is this type of multitasking really good for kids? Before you decide whether it is OK to let your children multitask, it may be helpful to understand what multitasking is all about.

The first step involved with making a well-informed decision is understanding what media multitasking is. Studies show that more kids are spending more time using more media simultaneously than ever before. These studies also indicate what many parents have long known: today’s children are experts in “media multitasking.” The bottom line is that they’re juggling various types of media, for as much as 8 1/2 hours of combined “screen time” per day. This is a surprising find considering that’s the same amount of time most adults spend at a full-time job. Studies have also shown that, two-thirds of the time, while kids are doing homework on the computer they are usually doing something else, too. While it can be an amazing sight to watch your child multitask, it’s important to ask yourself whether they’re learning while seamlessly moving from one technology to another.

The experts have weighed in and the news is not good. Most educational experts have reported that distractions can inhibit a child from learning new facts and concepts. So , even if the child learns something while multitasking, his ability to remember what he learns later, or use it in other contexts, will be seriously diminished. While the biology of the brain, and experts in cognitive learning, can give medical reasons why media multitasking is not a good idea, if we are doing many things simultaneously, the brain can really only focus on one thing at a time, unless the other skills involved are purely automatic.

In addition, it has been shown that when your child is doing homework, answering texts and then jumping back to homework, or any other combination of tasks, they work slower and are less thorough. For those kids who are struggling with attention disorders, the problems may be magnified. While your child may think they need the additional stimulation to concentrate, in reality they are short-circuiting the learning process. Jumping back and forth to monitor different media is stressful for the brain and no one learns well under increased stress.

The world is becoming increasingly digitized. There is also evidence that children’s brains may be adapting to multi-task more efficiently. Just as every other generation of parents found challenges unique to raising children, today’s parents will need to find ways for their children to learn among a sea of digital devices. However, as parents and educators, it becomes paramount to understand and control media while helping children learn to deal with the effects of media multitasking.

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Cite This Page

Feldman, Barbara. "Is It OK to Let Your Children Multitask?." Surfnetkids. Feldman Publishing. 9 Apr. 2010. Web. 1 Oct. 2014. <http://www.surfnetkids.com/tech/1519/is-it-ok-to-let-your-children-multitask/ >.