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Parenting

Your Child: Multitasking and Homework

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Does your child multitask with media while doing his or her homework? If so, they’re not alone and most likely they are spending a lot more time trying to finish an assignment.

What might at first glance seem harmless, doing homework or studying while watching TV, texting or checking social media can actually impair learning the material as well as lower test scores. Research has shown that it's one of the worst study habits a student can develop.

Why is that?  Our brains are wired to focus on one activity at a time. It’s how we’ve survived over the centuries.

Doing two things at once actually comprises the brain, shifting its processing from one neural network to another. Each shift comes with a cost of consuming time, mental effort, and brain fuel. Microseconds are wasted as the brain turns off the active network and turns on the next. This not only costs time (which adds up) but also depletes the brain’s critical resources of glucose and oxygen. The result – less gets done and less is remembered. While the brain is switching gears – trying to focus on the next thing required- it’s retaining less and less.

Oftentimes, this lack of retention shows up as poorer grades, less intercommunication skills and generally being more distracted.

In a study of 8-18 year old students done by the Kaiser Family Foundation, nearly one third of the students surveyed confessed that when they were doing homework, they were also watching TV, texting, or listening to music. Victoria Rideout, the lead author of the study, warns parents about the dangers of media multitasking. This concern is distinct from worrying about how much kids are online or how much kids are media multitasking overall. “It’s multitasking while learning that has the biggest potential downside,” she says.

Dr. David Meyer, a psychology professor at the University of Michigan observed that “under most conditions, the brain simply cannot do two complex tasks at the same time. Listening to a lecture while texting, or doing homework and being on Facebook—each of these tasks is very demanding, and each of them uses the same area of the brain, the prefrontal cortex." Most students incorrectly believe that they can perform two challenging tasks at the same time, according to Meyer. They may like to do it, they may even be addicted to it, but there’s no getting around the fact that it’s far better to focus on one task from start to finish.”

Multitasking takes up a lot more time than focusing on one activity. Finishing homework can last much later into the evening causing kids to get less sleep than they need. 

Parents of students have to take an active role in their children’s study habits. During homework time, your child’s phone and the TV need to be turned off.  You may even have to put the phone in a different location in the house until homework is completed. A quick lesson refresher with your child after homework is finished can help you see how much your child is retaining and whether all the assignments have been completed.

The Internet can be a helpful tool when researching certain school topics; the trick is to stay on point without falling into the trap of checking out other tempting sites such as social media. Once on the computer, it takes a lot of self-control to stay focused on a singular subject. You may need to help your child stay the course during this time.

Be sure and praise your child for their accomplishments instead of making homework a battleground. The more they are able to develop good study habits, the less time it will take to complete their assignments and the sooner they’ll be able to check back in with their friends and find out what’s been going on.

Story sources: Michael Howard, http://www.beyondbooksmart.com/executive-functioning-strategies-blog/distracted-by-technology-focusing-attention-on-homework

Judy Willis M.D., M.Ed, https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/radical-teaching/201611/the-high-costs-multitasking-you-and-your-kids

 

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