Remember when it was easy to know exactly what our kids were watching on TV? He’s watching “Blue’s Clues.” She’s watching “The Wonder Years.”
But now our world isn’t just one TV screen, easily checked and monitored. From the computer to the tablet to the smartphone, “second screens” are making it increasingly difficult to know exactly what content (and how much) our kids are consuming at any given moment.
Maybe it’s a YouTube video, a Facebook post, a Tweet or an Instagram photo. Or some app you don’t even know exists. Quite possible, it’s all of the above. And it’s often happening while your child is right there with you, in the family room with the TV on.
I’ve become increasingly guilty of it. I’m looking at my phone or tablet while supposedly “watching” TV. What do I find? Often I miss a key plot point because I was too distracted by what I was looking at on my phone. But I have to admit that sometimes it’s fun to see what people on Twitter are saying about the show I’m watching. It can be a big, collective, hilarious conversation. Networks and cable channels urge fans to take part in chatting about the show when it’s on to help boost ratings.
According to a 2014 study by TNS Global, globally, 41% of internet users watching TV are doing something else at the same time.
A 2013 Statistica.com report found that 72 % of teen web users aged 16 to 19 said they “chat” with friends when watching TV.
It’s wise to realize all those screens are here to stay. And that in itself is not a bad thing. Screens connect us in ways that are wonderful. For example: You know how to reach your child in an instant. (whether they answer instantly is another story.)
But one of the big worries of those second screens: distraction. Larry Rosen, a psychology professor at California State University-Dominguez Hills, studied students in 2013 for just a quarter of an hour while they were doing schoolwork to see how often they veered off into something else. “It really seems that they could not go for 15 minutes without engaging their devices,” he told KQED’s Mindshift site, adding, “It was kind of scary, actually.”
And in a different Mindshift story on the topic, Daniel Goleman, author of Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence, says, “Because attention is under siege more than it has ever been in human history, we have more distractions than ever before (and) we have to be more focused on cultivating the skills of attention.”
He went on to say he was concerned about young minds. “Children I’m particularly worried about because the brain is the last organ of the body to become anatomically mature. It keeps growing until the mid-20s,” Goleman said.
Problems that can arise include: The original task (homework, for example), takes longer to complete. Mental fatigue sets in sooner. Memory can be impaired, making it more difficult to retain the information needed. And, ultimately, poor school performance can be result.
The answer is pretty obvious, isn’t it? The ability to focus on one thing at one time is an important and vital skill, one that needs to be cultivated early.
So while it’s fun to chat with friends over the finale of Pretty Little Liars, or follow what fans are saying about that controversial NCAA championship game call, we all need to make sure we don’t multi-task ourselves out of the ability to turn it all off and learn to focus – on just one thing.