By Caroline Knorr, commonsensemedia.org
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Multitasking can affect a child’s memory, grades, and relationships. Learn how to rein it in.
Why multitasking matters
As the school year is back in full swing and our schedules are packed with bills to pay, places to be, sport to play, and homework to help with, Savvy Aunties are always looking for ways to help us keep it all together. But for the kids, who are sometimes processing just as much as we are in this media-rich world, there are real consequences to multitasking when it comes to memory, grades, and relationships.
A study performed at the National Academy of Sciences showed that even though students thought they were good at toggling back and forth, kids had difficulty focusing on one thing and shutting out distractions. And they were really slow at being able to return to their primary task—like homework—once they had shifted their attention to a text, an IM, or a TV show. Multitaskers understand less of what they’re doing, and the next day they aren’t able to remember what they learned while multitasking.
How to tell if multitasking is working for your niece or nephew
How do you know when multitasking may be a problem for the kids? Here are some warning signs to look for:
-Distraction from school work.
Can your nephew or niece remember what he or she read the night before? Does your niece’s book report thesis make a consistent argument? If not, her divided attention has hurt her ability to recall and retain information.
-Grades start dropping.
Homework isn’t finished on time, and reflection and analysis suffer. Experts say that the brain is programmed to respond more readily to a habitual task—like texting a friend back or IMing a response—than to perform the deeper tasks of analyzing information.
-Situational attention deficit disorder.
Is your niece or nephew disorganized? Slow to get things done? Irritable? It’s not just his or her age—it could be the multitasking.
Studies show that multitasking doesn’t do much for intimate family relationships. We all know that kids’ friends trump the family. So, if you were counting on a lovely family get-together, the moment a text comes in from a boyfriend, the connection with the family takes a back seat.
-Taking too long to complete an activity.
Kids take longer to finish things when they’re doing many things at once, and they simply absorb less information.
Tips for managing multitasking with kids of all ages
-Encourage them to read more.
Reading helps strengthen the brain’s ability to focus. The more people read, the better they become at reflection and analysis.
-Start good habits early.
Help the parents establish some boundaries when the kids are young. No TV, Facebook, YouTube, IM, texting, or other digital distractions during homework.
-Model what you preach.
This means no checking your phone while asking them how their days were.
-Keep distractions to a minimum.
Try to help nieces and nephews do one thing at a time. Granted, this is easier with younger kids. For older kids, try to make sure social networks and chatting happen after homework is completed—or at timed intervals.
-Pay attention and connect the dots.
If you see that their grades are slipping, make the connection between listening to a favorite band and doing algebra homework. If your nieces and nephews begin handing in work late or if they are staying up too late to complete homework, consider telling their parents to turn off the Internet, the cell phone, and the TV, and see if the situation reverses itself. The grades will tell if multitasking is taking its toll.
Published: February 5, 2013