Teens Multitasking

For years, scientists have said that multitasking is ineffective yet many in today’s workforce continue to use it as a technique for managing their burgeoning workloads. In the latest reports, the effects on teens are noted. Although their propensity for doing multiple tasks at any one time drives most parents and adults crazy, for them, this is a way of life!

I remember a friend of mine boasting to me how his daughter can sit at the computer researching for a paper or doing her homework while at the same time having multiple windows open, the music on, and talking on the phone. She would be doing her Calculus homework, texting about German, and making plans to hang out, while searching the Internet for her latest research project. She was carrying a full load of Advanced Placement classes, participating in girls basketball and active in her church youth group. If she wasn’t maintaining high honors, I would definitely question the effectiveness of her approach. A daughter of a scientist and an engineer either her intelligence was found in her genes or perhaps her unique approach to getting it all done and keeping it all together.

Personally, as a baby boomer, I shudder at the speed that teens are able to tackle tasks and also worried about the possible long-term side effects that have not yet been addressed in scientific or behavioral research.

According to the latest research, although doing several things simultaneously may feel productive, rapidly switching between tasks may actually slow you down as your brain loses connection to important information and significant time is lost re-focusing and getting back on-task. With multitasking it is almost impossible to gain a depth of knowledge of any of the simultaneous tasks. Yet today’s teens have tremendous skills to be able to be doing multiple things at the same time!

An ever-increasing number of teens are finding it difficult to concentrate and focus on just one task at a time. Although there’s not much data yet on teens, David Meyer at the University of Michigan has spent the past few decades studying multitasking — mostly in adults. He says,
“For tasks that are at all complicated, no matter how good you have become at multitasking, you’re still going to suffer hits against your performance. You will be worse compared to if you were actually concentrating from start to finish on the task,”. When you are interrupted, re-establishing focus may take seconds, minutes or even hours.

Yet, with teens who have pretty much grown up on technology and multitasking, Meyer and others believe that these youngsters are developing coping skills unlike what older generations have developed and may therefore be more equipped to perform better in future work environments where they are required to accomplish a lot. They have grown up always doing multiple things, so they are naturally more skilled at it than previous generations.

While multitasking gives a sense of doing more and being more efficient, research suggests that the performance results are higher when fully focusing on just one activity. There’s not much research on the addictive nature of multitasking yet or the possible long-term negative effects on the developing brain. Researchers are not sure what the long-term impact might be because studies have not yet probed this area. While some fear that the penchant for flitting from task-to-task could have serious consequences on young people’s ability to focus and develop analytical skills, others are more optimistic.

For teens, multitasking is really all they know; they are conditioned to do it based on the availability of technology tools, gadgets, and the ease of their use. Who knows, maybe this generation will be able to teach us a thing or two about more effectively multitasking while being productive??

About The PriorityPro
Natalie Gahrmann, an international expert, empowers professional women to ignite their passion, demonstrate personal leadership and exude greater confidence. Her background in business acumen and leadership development is instinctively applied through 1-1 coaching, workshops and keynote presentations. She can help you gain clarity, focus and direction so that you accomplish more of what's important to YOU!


One Response to “Teens Multitasking”
  1. Steve says:

    This was a great article, but one aspect that should be considered (and you addressed it to some slight extent in your blog post) is the complexity of tasks involved related to the ability or time needed to refocus on a particular task.

    When I was a teenager in high school, most of my tasks were not that complicated. Granted my schoolwork was important, but it wasn’t nearly as challenging as what I faced in my college years.

    Likewise, my experiences in the professional software development (IT) industry designing, implementing, and troubleshooting large-scale, complex software systems for large, complex businesses far exceeded the challenges of my college courses.

    I now work for a major national bank as a software development guy on the Home Equity servicing and collections systems. When I am troubleshooting problems with the Production systems or writing software updates to modify the software to meet new business requirements, I am very focused and engaged on a number of complex systems and problems that sometimes even extend to other Technology teams across the enterprise or outside the bank to our business partners and vendors.

    The very nature of the complexity of these tasks makes it difficult for me to multi-task because any interruption, even a valid business interruption such as a phone call or an impromptu visit to my cube by my manager, can cause enough of a disruption in my work that it may take anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes or longer for me to refocus my mind into the details of whatever I was working on prior to the interruption.

    I’m a pretty intelligent person and valuable asset to the company, but for all my intelligence and competence, I cannot get around the fact that solving real world business problems in large, complex business environments requires very concentrated focus on the problem at hand to deal with many residual and side issues that are all related to the primary issue at hand.

    This type of complexity and interrelated issues never existed at this level of complexity in any of the work I did for college courses, and especially not for any of the work I did in my high school courses.

    Now I only possess a Bachelor’s Degree of Science from a four year university and not a post-graduate degree. I’m sure if you were to assess the ability of a doctoral candidate working on his or her dissertation to multi-task, you would find similiar limitations as what I experience in my work today.

    Again, I doubt that most teenagers are faced with any tasks that require the kind of concentration and focus that a doctoral dissertation requires, so it’s probably more of an issue of comparing apples to apples and learning or realizing how our tasks grow in size and complexity as we mature in age and job functions.

    Best regards,

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