Media multitasking, the term coined to describe what’s going on when someone, in this case your child, is surfing the internet, texting and answering instant messages, or IM’s, while simultaneously doing homework, is a relatively new term for parents. This new phenomenon is a hallmark for this generation of kids who are more technologically savvy than those before them. While being able to process several things simultaneously in a media-rich world can be a real skill, it also comes with a cost. When kids are constantly being interrupted by IM’s, phone calls and texts, while multitasking can help them juggle many balls without dropping them, it may seriously impede their ability to absorb, and therefore learn.
Several recent studies have shown that even though students thought they were good at toggling back and forth, which is the essence of multitasking, there were real consequences to this behavior. Specifically, researchers have found that kids could not focus and, worse yet, kids who were media multitasking were unable to quickly return to their primary task, for example homework, once they had shifted their attention to a text, an IM or a TV show. The bottom line is that media multi-taskers understand less of what they are reading or studying and they are not able to recall what they learned. When this happens, it becomes your job, as a parent, to determine whether or not media multitasking works for your child.
Here are some things to look for:
Your child’s grades start dropping – If homework is not finished on time, and reflection and analysis suffer, that could be a sign that media multi-tasking is taking a toll.
Constant distraction from schoolwork – If your child can’t remember what she read or did for homework last night, her divided attention has hurt her ability to recall and retain information. They may need your help and supervision to focus on homework.
Situational attention deficit disorder – Does your child seem disorganized? If he or she is slow to get things done, irritable and showing signs of stress, don’t write it off as part of growing up as it could be his or her multitasking that’s causing a problem.
Look at the social costs – Studies have shown that multitasking hurts family relationships. Kids’ friends trump their parents. If you were counting on a lovely family dinner, when your child receives a text from a friend, boyfriend or girlfriend, their focus shifts and the connection with the family takes is secondary.
Does it seem like everything is taking longer? – Kids who are caught up in media multitasking often take longer to finish things. When they are doing many things at once, they simply absorb less information and are unable to focus.
If you have determined that your child is suffering from media overload, there are things that you can do to help. These include:
Set boundaries when your kids are young – Turn off the T.V., computer and even cell phones, when your kids are young. This way they will understand that media does not rule your life or theirs.
Have your kids open a book – The brain is a muscle and reading is the way to exercise it. Your kids do not have to know that reading actually builds the muscles that counteract the impact of multitasking. The more kids read, the better they become at reflection and analysis.
Practice what you preach – It is really hard to establish priorities with your kids, when you are constantly texting or surfing the web on your Blackberry. Turn off the media at set times. Most people find themselves renewed and refreshed charge after taking a break from media.
Try to keep distractions to a minimum – It is important to help your kids do one thing at a time. While it can be difficult, if the computer is in the same room as the TV making small changes can help your kids understand the importance and place of media in their lives.