Communication Overload

Many teenagers today are excellent multi-taskers. They listen to music, do homework, and text all at once.

Picture a teenager nestled comfortably on the family couch. The parents have settled in to watch their nightly shows while he does his homework. The teenager has their personal laptop with social networking sites up and their cell phone going off all the time. This young person’s brain is on overload, trying to process the television, parents, homework, text messages, and computer all at once, and as a result, his homework (and thus his education) will likely suffer.

The Multi-tasking Teen

Many researchers believe that multi-tasking is not actually the performance of multiple tasks simultaneously, but rather the illusion that multiple tasks are taking place at the same time. The brain appears to be switching rapidly back and forth from one task to another, and as a result every task is being done at a slower pace than if each task was completed separately. The perceived speed of the tasks comes from jamming so many into one space of time.

Teenagers find this thrilling. The ability to hold several conversations while doing homework, listening to music, and baking cookies is remarkable. Their parents say they do not understand how their children do so many things at once, and the parents claim that they cannot accomplish the same tasks. This appeals to the teen’s competitive nature. Teenagers begin to believe that multi-tasking makes them special, important and productive. Sadly, multi-tasking could be harming their ability to appropriately develop through the teen years.

The Multi-Tasking Brain

The brain does not mature until after twenty-one years of age. Thus, teenagers who multi-task are technically doing so with an under-developed brain. The act of multi-tasking distributes actions throughout the brain and decreases their caliber. A comparable scenario would be if too many light bulbs connected to the same limited electrical supply. All of the bulbs will light up, but they will appear dimmer than if only one or two were receiving all the electricity.  Similarly, a teen may complete all of the tasks, but they will do so far less efficiently and probably less aptly than if they’d concentrated on one at a time.

Another drawback occurs after the fact. Recovering information received during a multi-tasking session will be more difficult than recovering information learned while intensely focusing on one particular subject. The young person mentioned at the beginning of this article, for example, will probably not remember his homework or his conversation with his parents very clearly because they happened at the same time with so many other interruptions.

In general, multi-tasking as a whole is probably not detrimental, but multi-tasking during something important (homework, driving, etc.) is definitely not advisable. A teenager of the 21st century is drawn to the fast-paced appeal of multi-tasking, so it may help for parents to set some guidelines.  Restrict teens’ access to social networking sites, especially during homework time, and ask them to turn their cell phone off or leave it in another room.  Your teen could perform better in school as a result.

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