Multitasking is something that’s been around a long time. Like your mom answering the phone while she was looking over homework or ironing a shirt or dress for the next day. Sometimes it’s necessary. But what about multitasking with today’s technology. It’s almost in a teenager’s DNA to multitask…many times while they are doing something focused like their homework or studying for a test, they’re also texting on their phone. Come to find out that behavior borders on compulsive if it doesn’t fit the clinical definition.
Researchers from California State University observed students in their homes over a period of time to see what the depth of their multitasking was. Despite the students knowing up front what the observers would be watching for, they were only able to stay on a focused task 65 percent of the time. In fact, within 2 minutes of starting their requested task they were already texting, looking at social media feeds or making a phone call.
Observers estimated that the students could not go more than 15 minutes without going to their devices.
Okay…so they like their technology and their devices seem to be a new appendage attached to their body, is it really a problem? These researchers say it appears, for students anyway, it is. Experts say that the problem comes in when a person is doing two complex jobs at the same time. You can be mopping the floor and listen to a weather report at the same time without taxing yourself too much because those two jobs are not competing for the same mental resources. However, when something like texting, talking on the phone or playing a game on a device goes on while trying to concentrate on reading or studying, mental resources are divided and neuroscientists say the quality and quantity of what the individual is doing goes out the window. This shows itself in taking longer…sometimes much longer…to complete assignments, mental fatigue is higher because the brain continually has to pick up the thread of thought after the distraction. Likely the most important is learning and memory becomes much spottier and very shallow.
Not all multitasking with technology is harmful or makes them less productive. Watching television while texting are not necessarily conflicting activities because one is passive, while the other is a bit more complex in turning a thought to text.
If your student is struggling with this, know that most of the time they won’t see it as a problem. But as an experiment, see if they can stay away from their device and concentrate for 15 minutes…then take a technology break and let them send a text or look at Facebook. Next time go 20 minutes…break. Try to extend to 30 or 45 minutes. A total ban may be pretty difficult to do, but setting limits to technology when studying or doing homework can go a long way when it comes to retaining what’s being learned.
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