Dr. Gregory Jantz

Studying Your Son’s Multitasking and Critical Thinking

October 1, 2015

As you consider measuring the impact technology has on your son, be sure to carefully study your son’s ability to multitask, including when his brain gets over-stimulated from too much multitasking.

According to Michael Rich, executive director for the Center on Media and Child Health and an associate profession at the Harvard Medical School, teenagers are wired for distraction: “Their brains are rewarded for not staying on task but for jumping to the next thing. The worry is we’re raising a generation of kids in front of screens whose brains are going to wired differently.” Differently is not necessarily a bad thing, but when a boy already is vulnerable to attention issues (for instance, ADD/ADHD), constant multitasking can be dangerous to his brain development.

In his book, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, Nicholas Carr goes deeper into multitasking and Internet use, especially to ask the question, “Is Google making us stupid?” He answers “yes.” He argues our ability to jump from site to site leads no only to possible multitasking issues in young brains, but also creates an “inch-deep and mile-wide Net surfing” attitude that may compromise our children’s ability to read and think deeply. He says, “We are becoming ever more adept at scanning and skimming, but what we are losing is our capacity for concentration, contemplation, and reflection.”

Concentration, contemplation, and reflection are all executive functioning skills centered in the prefrontal cortex of the brain, an area where teenage males are naturally not as fast to mature as we may like. These brain centers continue to mature well into their twenties. Because this area of the brain is not fully developed during boyhood, teenage boys need more, not less, practice at critical thinking, involving reasoning, and learning how to forge pathways that connect the dots. Unfortunately, when media prompt boys’ brains to skim quickly from rock to rock on the surface of the water, the boys don’t go deep into the lake. They don’t think enough about what they are learning or need to know in order to develop well. Their prefrontal cortex can thus not grow as well as we need it to.

Continue studying your son and his technology use by gathering data and answering these questions:

  • Does my son think about things deeply before answering?
  • Is he performing appropriately in school? (Is he getting the grades he ought to be getting for who he is?)
  • Does he become overly frustrated, beyond what is natural for any teen boy, when he is asked to move from task to task?
  • Has he been diagnosed with ADD or ADHD or another brain disorder?

If you notice your son is not using critical thinking skills at home, school, in church, or in other parts of his daily life, you may need to take charge not only of screen time but also of helping him exercise self-discipline that says, “I will do one thing at a time!” You may even need to teach him how to gather more information before coming to a conclusion. This will mean curtailing some of his media use, for instance, in favor of debates at the dinner table or discussions on important topics while driving to the store.

Ultimately, you will probably need to increase mother-son, father-son, and mentor-mentee time as you cut out some of his media use. Your son may need the social-intellectual interaction of real relationships much more than he needs the constant use of media.

This is why I created the book Hooked, and I often recommend technology detoxes for my clients. If you think you are struggling with a technology addiction and need professional recovery assistance, my team at The Center • A Place of HOPE is standing by to help you. Fill out this form or call 1-888-747-5592 to speak confidentially with a technology addiction specialist today.