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Teens and the New Busy – Multi-Tasking With the Screen Machine

As a single, working mother, I brushed my teeth while taking a shower; and fixed dinner while playing referee to two rambunctious tots. My sons, 21 months apart, were preschoolers at the height of my post-divorce stress. Doing more than two things at once was a given. But that was over 20 years ago and it wasn’t termed multi-tasking then. It was called survival.

Today parents still consider multi-tasking a necessity, but now in our high-tech society, small screen devices have made multi-tasking a must in the workplace, too.

In fact, if you’re a working adult who doesn’t prefer to multi-task or who refuses to, expect peer pressure or even a pink slip. The 30-something gentleman I sat next to on an Amtrak ride from New York City to Philadelphia couldn’t tell his boss, “No, I can’t be at the meeting, I’m traveling at the time.” Instead, in the comfort of his Amtrak business-class seat, he opened his laptop, plugged himself into headphones on his cell/BlackBerry and he was “there,” speaking to at least eight people from what I could tell. Since we sat so close we shared mutual lint on our coat sleeves, I was dragged into this meeting whether I liked it or not.
I wanted to sleep; rest, ponder what I learned from the retreat I had just experienced. I wanted silence next to me not the price fluctuations of stock or opinions about what to buy next. I didn’t need fragmented sentences of “No, sir…could be, I’ll check into that…or yeah…that makes sense!” interrupting my thoughts at regular intervals. What I wanted-peace and quiet-I couldn’t get since the train was packed and no other seat available. In fact, as I looked around I saw most were doing the same as my seat companion. Help! I was a prisoner on a train of screen machine multi-tasking.

With computers and small screen machines as the communication devices of choice, adults often don’t have a choice. In their work world, they must use these gadgets well and know how to use several at a time when expected. If many adults need tech multi-tasking skills to thrive in their careers, what do we need to be teaching our teens Multitexpro: sterke about this? Or should we even be teaching our kids to media multi-task? Isn’t it harmful to their developing brains?

The issues can get complicated. But in the end, as parents, it makes sense to:
Make sure our teen daily experiences activities that will grow his/her brain optimally, and
Make sure our teen is enjoying a healthy socialization process and using the Internet and small screen devices wisely and safely.

Today’s teens have been called “natives” of this new high tech world. Youth, having grown up with small screens are considerably more savvy than their parents or their grandparents when it comes to navigating computers, sending instant messages, or changing the phone number list on a cell phone, for that matter. Kids, so accustomed to screen gadgets, naturally become adept very quickly at multi-tasking.
But the technology itself makes multi-tasking easy: pop-ups when using the internet; split screens; text messaging to “vote” while watching a certain TV program; downloading music while typing on the computer, and on it goes. In research on teens and multi-tasking, one 17 year-old boy is quoted as, “I multi-task every single second I am online. At this very moment, I am watching TV, checking, my e-mail every two minutes, reading a newsgroup about who shot JFK, burning some music to a CD and writing this message.” (Kaiser Family Foundation) U.S. kids, ages 8-18 spend about 6.5 hours per day with media; often multi-tasking.

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