Should you worry if your kid “media multitasks” while doing his algebra homework, writing her American History paper, or otherwise studying for school? Can texting, tweeting, talking with friends on the phone or online, checking Facebook, watching TV, playing video games, listening to music (or doing several of these at once) co-exist with successful learning? Researchers – and a remarkable 11th grader from Conyers, Ga. – say “No”. (With one possible exception – read on!)
In a recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey, nearly one in three 8- to 18-year-olds said they multitask most of the time while doing their homework. And 22 percent more indulge some of the time. Just 19 percent say they never do. While many kids, and some experts, say media multitasking is the new normal, research suggests otherwise – confirming my own gut feelings (and probably yours, too) about what gets lost when kids aren’t focused. Here’s what can happen:
Learning isn’t as deep. In one fascinating Columbia University study, students who focused completely on studying the information in an experimental assignment had a deeper and more flexible understanding of it. Multitaskers’ knowledge was shallower. That means both might do equally as well on a multiple-choice test, but the multitaskers might have trouble applying the information. For example, they might not be able to conjugate a Spanish verb on the spot in order to have a conversation.
The facts suffer. The coolest multitasking study I’ve found was done not by an adult researcher but by a curious 11th grader from the Rockdale Magnet School for Science and Technology in Conyers, Ga. She rounded up 91 fellow students for a 2009 science project. Divided into four groups, the study volunteers all read for five minutes – some in silence, others while listening to music, watching TV or talking on the phone. Then they were tested on what they’d read. The “silence” group, on average, got 70 percent of questions right. Students who listened to music scored slightly higher, at 72 percent. TV watchers earned a 60 percent, and those who’d talked on the phone got just 50 percent right.