Multitasking: Why It’s Bad for You and Your Kids

The family can accomplish more by doing less

As a parent, you may not realize that you’re multitasking when you juggle kids, career, chores and friendships.

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But you are — and you’re not the only one. Technology has made it easier for kids to multitask too.

This can affect both kids and parents negatively, says pediatrician Deb Lonzer, MD. 

How juggling sets us back

In this fast-paced world, multitasking may seem like the most efficient way to get everything done. But Dr. Lonzer would disagree.

She says multitasking represents a problem rather than a solution because:

  • It actually slows us down.
  • It makes it harder to do everything to the best of our abilities.

“Break down tasks, or you’ll become the jack-of-all trades but the master of none,” she notes.

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Multitasking on different wavelengths

Kids make better choices and prioritize tasks more successfully when they tackle one at a time, says Dr. Lonzer. But multitasking does more than affect kids’ productivity — it affects their brains, too.

Multitasking makes it hard for the still-developing brain to:

  • Absorb information.
  • Connect thoughts and ideas.

“Kids are not little adults,” cautions Dr. Lonzer.

High social costs for the family

As harmful as multitasking can be for the brain, it also takes a toll on family relationships. Kids or parents who are constantly plugged in to cell phones, iPods or video games aren’t interacting with the family in meaningful ways.

“Kids who spend less time interacting with their parents learn less by example. They don’t get to see how adults actually behave,” says Dr. Lonzer.

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Technological multitasking also increases generational boundaries. “It becomes difficult for parents and children to feel like they are part of the team that is the family,” says Dr. Lonzer.

That sense of belonging is essential for a child’s development. Kids need to feel like they are part of a unit before they begin to discover how they fit into the world at large.

Quick fixes and common sense

“Multitasking is here to stay,” admits Dr. Lonzer. But she says you can lessen its impact on your family, even for a few minutes a day,  in three ways:  

  • Ban technology from the bedroom. It’s OK for kids to do homework on computers in their rooms. But the bedroom should otherwise be a sanctuary where kids can play, read or just relax. This goes for parents’ bedrooms too!
  • Unplug the family now and then. Dr. Lonzer encourages families to take an occasional break from technology. Get rid of that background noise from the TV or radio. Enjoy quiet time by yourself, or with your kids and spouse.
  • Tune in to what your kids are watching. Not all TV is bad, says Dr. Lonzer. In fact, watching television together can be a great way for the family to relax. But parents should monitor TV programs, talk about them with kids, and even  watch shows as a family, she advises.

Although life rarely slows down, Dr. Lonzer suggests setting appropriate limits with our to-do lists. “We’ll all continue to multitask, but try and be reasonable about it, and use common sense,” she says.

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