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Teen Health 411
Teen Health 411

Media Multitasking Among Young People

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The Kaiser Family Foundation released a new report last week entitled "Media Multitasking Among American Youth: Prevalence, Predictors and Pairings" based on data from seven-day media use diaries from 694 young people 8to 18 years old. The data was collected from October 2003 through March 2004 as part of the Generation M study.

Every mom understands multitasking - it is how we manage to make it through the day. However, more and more teens and even tweens are now learning they can get more done by doing multiple things at once, usually involving media. Although there is no research focused specifically on the effects of multitasking, conventional wisdom and brain research suggests there are limits to how much our brains can process at once.

I also would like to suggest that multitasking limits our comprehension because there are fewer brain resources directed at each activity. In addition, I am very concerned that the stimulation from the media use will limit self-reflection and creativity.

What is media multitasking?

Media multitasking is using more than one medium at a time. For example, reading a magazine while watching TV, listening to music while playing a video game, etc... Youth are most likely to multitask when they are instant messaging and surfing the internet.

How many kids are doing it?
In a typical week, 81% of young people spend some of their media time using more than one medium at a time. Girls are more likely to media multitask than boys.

What are they doing?
When young people are reading, playing computer games or looking at websites, most (2/3) tend to be doing something else, as well (eating, doing chores, talking on the phone, instant messaging, doing homework, or using other media). However, this is not true when they are watching TV or playing video games (less than 45%).

Many teens (65%) use media while doing their homework, especially if they are doing homework on the computer. Listening to music at the same time is the most common behavior.

What can parents do to reduce the media multitasking of youth?
Have the TV on less. Do not be a multiple TV household. Never watch TV during meals. keep the computer and TV physically separate.

Photo credit: sparklefish

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About the Author

Dr. Brown is a developmental psychologist specializing in adolescent health.

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