There is a good chance that you are reading this post while brushing your teeth and listening to your favorite morning radio personality, reading this post while eating lunch and watching a YouTube video, or reading this post while listening to a podcast and driving to your next appointment. I bring these scenarios to your attention because I want you to know that your teeth would be cleaner, your food would taste better and the roads would be safer for everyone if you simply did one thing at a time.
MULTITASKING IS A MYTH
In every day, in nearly every way, most of us profess to be efficient at multitasking. The truth is that humans or more specifically the human brain is incapable of multitasking proficiently. As it turns out not only is the human brain incapable of multitasking but science has uncovered some startlingly facts about what happens to the human brain when it is repeatedly asked to multitask.
In the short-term, multitasking makes us inefficient and increasingly susceptible to error. If you don’t believe me, conduct your own experiment. Make a list of five to ten things that you need to do. The first time try doing all of the tasks simultaneously. The second time try completing one task before beginning a new task. You will quickly discover just how ineffective, inefficient and dangerous multitasking can be.
In the long-term, multitasking might also be causing permanent cognitive impairment. For the non-scientist among us, multitasking may be the reason that we find it increasingly difficult to concentrate, to sleep, to recall things even in the short-term, and to be productive.
Apple is known for its revolutionary technological devices and out of the box thinking. Rarely does a minute in any day go by absent the use of a technological instrument. Apple and other Silicon Valley companies have literally changed the world. Unfortunately, there is an apparent downside to the proliferation of technological creativity and innovation.
When Apple coined the phrase “think different”, I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that they only wanted us to figuratively “think different”. I can’t imagine that they wanted or anticipated, in any way, that a day would come where our brains would literally “think different”.
Yet, scientists have discovered that humans are actually thinking different. Scientific discoveries show that there are disconcerting connections between high media-multitasking activity and poor attention in the face of distractions, along with emotional problems such as depression and anxiety. It appears that our excessive use and overdependence on mobile phones, laptops and other media devices could not only be changing the way we think but more alarming our technological gadgets could be changing the structure of our brains.
SAVE THE CHILDREN
Now on to the truly important people, our children. To begin the discussion of multitasking and children, I’m going to ask you a question. Do you believe children are more capable or less capable of multitasking? If you answered more capable, you need to see a neurologist immediately. Your gray matter is eroding faster than anyone could have expected.
Of course, the correct answer is that children are without a doubt less capable of multitasking than their inept multitasking parents. The reason for this is that a child’s brain is not completely developed until they reach their early twenties. Through the early 20s the brain continues to develop with the frontal lobes – the part of the brain responsible for reasoning and problem solving – developing last.
What does this all mean in lay terms? For the non-neurologist parent, it means that even when our children look like adults, (on occasion) act like adults and even (on rarer occasion) sound like adults, they do not yet have the brain maturity and brain capability to rationalize as well as adults.
According to Dr. Ron Dahl, a pediatrician and child psychiatric researcher at the University Of Pittsburgh Medical Center, teenagers can rationalize almost as well as adults until stress is inserted. It appears that children are capable of learning a lot, but the parts of their brains related to emotions and decision-making are still in the works.
The work by Dr. Dahl and others explains a great deal about why it seems like our children – even when they look and sound like adults – are prone to erratic emotive and risky behavior. The part of the brain that is last to develop is the part of the brain responsible for emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence or EQ is the ability to identify, use, understand, and manage emotions in positive ways to relieve stress, communicate effectively, empathize with others, overcome challenges, and defuse conflict.
What does this all mean? It means that you can expect your teenage child to be moody without having the capability to recognize or manage their mood swings. You can expect your teenage child to fly off the handle – doing and saying things that they don’t mean and will later deeply regret. You can expect your teenager to partake in some parental disapproving and undesirable behavior. You can expect your teenager to struggle emotionally with challenges you consider just good ole life experiences.
In sum, you should anticipate that there will be times when your teenager will not resemble, in the slightest, the child you have come to know and adore. When this stranger who looks like your child but does not behave like your child appears in front of you, simply remember that they are your child who also happens to be the ill-fated captives of an undeveloped and emotionally immature brain.
Although it is highly improbable that we are going to throw away our technological gadgets and return to a time before smartphones, tablets and computers, we must give up the idea of multitasking. Not only is multitasking unhealthy for our brains, it wreaks havoc on our relationships – in particular the relationships with our children. From now on when you are spending time with your children, turn off the phone, turn off the TV, put away the work and just be with your children.
Finally, while we work to break our useless habit of multitasking, let’s keep the brain research about children at the forefront of our thoughts. The research seems clear. Despite their appearance, children don’t have the same brains as adults so we need to give our children some much needed slack. We must give our children the time and space to focus on doing just one thing at a time.
If they have a game let them focus on playing the game and not pleasing you. If they are studying let them focus on their studies and not staying connected with you. If they have a dream give them room to breathe without asking them to share some of their oxygen with you.
Give your child a chance to be a master and not a jack. Give your child a chance to master one thing at a time. Science shows that focusing on and accomplishing one task at a time is really the best thing for our brain and actually it’s all that any of us are truly capable of doing.
How has multitasking hindered your parent-child relationships? What suggestions do you have to minimize the tendency to try to multitask?