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Life on multiple screens

Do your kids toggle?

I’m not proud of this, but I observed my teenagers doing homework the other night and counted them juggling at least four other things at the same time: TV, texting, email and Instagram.

They have become masters of multi-tasking, these kids of mine and their friends. The idea of studying for a long stretch without taking a moment to Skype a buddy or download a song is just plain strange to them.

The number of windows up on their computer screens is practically equivalent to their ages, and their attention span shifts with every blinking light and buzzing phone. 

So far, this constant switching of channels doesn’t seem to be negatively affecting their schoolwork. Some studies have even suggested that frequent Web surfers’ brains are getting better at synthesizing and evaluating information at lightning speeds – not a bad skill to have in this digital age. 

But I can’t ignore the mounting research and warnings about multitasking killing our ability to concentrate, be creative and retain information. 

Am I raising shallow learners?

Our society used to worry about how many TV and media hours our kids were packing into their daily lives. With the advent of social networking, today’s kids are consuming even larger quantities in less time. 

It’s typical for a child now to cram 10 hours and 45 minutes worth of media content into seven hours a day, according to “Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8- to 18-year-olds,” a survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation. Almost a third of the kids surveyed said that while doing homework they also were watching TV, texting, listening to music, or using some other medium.

A recent California State University study found middle, high school and college students switching to tech distractions every six minutes during a regular study session. Two other studies at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society found that texting and using Facebook in class and while doing homework were negatively correlated with college students’ GPAs. 

I know I need to start weaning my kids off of this multi-distraction habit. I plan to start right away – after I put down my phone and close a few computer screens.