Thursday, October 13, 2011
Generation Wired Article Oct 7, 2011
They text (and text and text). They have hundreds of “friends” they’ve never actually met. They game for hours. How to keep your kids safe and healthy in a hyper-connected world.
How Exactly Is All This Affecting Young Brains?
A 2010 study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that students 8 to 18 spend more than 7.5 hours a day engaged with computers, cell phones, TV, music, or video games. Forty percent of kids in middle school and high school say that when they’re on the computer, most of the time they’re also plugged into other media. The effects this multitasking has on still-forming brains can be positive and negative. “The prefrontal cortex, which is essential for social behavior, planning, reasoning, and impulse control, is not fully developed until the early 20s,” says Jordan Grafman of the Kessler Foundation Research Center. “Its development is largely dependent on what activities you do.”
Studies have shown that multitasking can lead to faster response time, improved peripheral vision, and a greater ability to sift through information quickly. But it also results in a diminished ability to focus on one thing for long. “You get better at the physical and visual motor parameters of what you’re doing, but not the deeper, thoughtful aspects,” Grafman says.
How will the generation coming of age now—less accustomed to sustained concentration—be affected? No one’s sure. Dr. O’Keeffe recently spoke to a group of college students. “They said they feel really bombarded, they’re not sure they’re learning effectively, and they’re not sure how to turn it all off. We need to learn from what they’re saying and help our current teenagers as well as younger kids learn to disconnect.” For parents, that might entail modeling a bit of self-discipline, like refraining from making calls while you drive or sneaking off during family gatherings to check your email. But the payoff—real conversations in real time—just may surprise you, and your kids. Who knows? They may even like it. Of course, you may need to check their Facebook page to find out.