“Mom, I need to read two chapters for a test tomorrow,” your 8th grader declares. He shuts the door to his bedroom and for the next 45 minutes at least three different technology devices compete for his attention, bouncing between texts, music, and stopping to look things up on the web “real quick.” Media Multitasking is the term for this and though it has become the norm for many of us today, it’s no wonder more than ten percent of American children have been officially diagnosed as having attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder.
However, a recent article in Psychology Today “Why French Children Don’t Have ADHD” argues that ADHD is practically unheard of in France, with less than one percent of French children formally diagnosed. Why is this? First of all, ADHD is not viewed as a biological disorder there, so drugs like Ritalin and Adderall aren’t doled out like they are in the United States. Instead, the author says the French view ADHD as an outcome of a child’s environment- with discipline and nutrition being the chief culprits. She argues that French parents are more authoritative than American parents as a whole and their children don’t eat as much junk as our kids do either.
Another factor that wasn’t mentioned, but is worth noting, is technology. Parents’ main concerns in the digital age surround Internet privacy and safety, or they worry technology will replace a child’s social interactions. Yet the availability of technology in so many forms and the media multitasking of them is another reason we are becoming a scattered, ADHD nation. Smart phones, tablets, laptops, and video games allow us to hopscotch between Facebook, Instagram, apps, games, and websites- the perpetual rabbit hole in Alice in Wonderland. And kids today don’t know any different.
A recent study from the Institute of Psychiatry at the University of London suggests that multitasking numerous devices at once causes our IQ to fall 10 points, equivalent to missing an entire night’s sleep, when trying to perform deep thinking such as studying for an exam. It shouldn’t be a surprise, then, that teens today are taking “study drugs” like Ritalin and Adderall to not only take important exams, such as the SAT, but just to focus enough to do homework.
In 2008, Nicholas Carr first brought the issue of how the digital age is affecting our thinking as a culture when he published the article “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” Beginning with his own story, he explains how he lost the ability to concentrate since he switched to reading on the web years earlier. He argues that the immediacy and short chunks of information today have made us impatient when it comes to heavier, more thoughtful concentration on a single task. Imagine how it is for kids- they have never known life without all the constant pings, text chatter, and noise.
There have always been new advances that older generations have worried would “rot kids’ brains.” Carr points out that even in Plato’s Phaedrus, Socrates lamented the development of writing as something that would erase the knowledge carried only inside the human mind up until then.
We have seen how technology has advanced society. However, at no other time have as many mediums been combined as today. It’s not the devices that are the problem; it’s the constancy of them and combining them at once that our brains aren’t evolved enough to process.
According to a 2010 Kaiser Family Foundation Study, only about 3 in 10 young people say they have rules about how much time they can spend using technology. But when parents do set limits, children spend 3 hours less time with media than those without any media rules.
There is hope. Parents can step in and help kids plan and prioritize by setting limits on technology. Have a technology cut-off time at night, at least an hour before bedtime. Have them do something sedentary or quiet that relaxes them like reading, which doesn’t stimulate the brain, instead. For older children talk about the effects media multitasking has on their brains and why they should physically remove devices from their bedrooms or surroundings at certain times of the day and at bedtime and why.
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