Flickr:Neeta Lind

There’s no question that for both kids and adults, our attention is divided. Texts, emails, Twitter, Facebook are all chiming, ringing, beeping, and chirping for our attention.

How does this affect kids? The media has covered the subject in terms of fear of multitasking leading to ADD, losing control to digital devices, and the dangers of not being able to focus. And in most cases, the Internet (and technology in general) has been declared the culprit.

But rather than blaming the medium, David Levy, author of Scrolling Forward: Making Sense of Documents in the Digital Age, and a professor at the Information School at the University of Washington, believes the challenges of multitasking present us with an opportunity to take control of the situation, starting at a young age.

“We’re led to believe that we’re victims and we don’t have a choice in the matter and it’s the Internet’s fault,” Levy said at the Innovative Learning Conference last week. “But the problem is bigger than technology.”

Levy cited a 2009 Stanford study, Impacts of Media Multitasking on Children’s Learning and Development [PDF], which concluded that schools have yet to meet the challenge of dealing with stretched attention that media multitasking requires. USC Professor Henry Jenkins, author of multiple books on media and pop culture, has also emphasized the importance of teaching multitasking as a skill.

Levy’s proposal to parents and to the education system: Teach the tools that will teach kids to focus, avoid distraction, and judge what to pay attention to as they’re exposed to a slew of diversions. It’s a matter of training the brain.

“We need a culture of education that teaches these kinds of skills,” he said.

Levy recently completed a study on mindfulness training, testing the ability to narrow or widen the mind’s focus at will — whether to focus on one thing or survey the larger scene. The results were not surprising: the group that received meditation training was far less stressed than those who didn’t after completing a highly stressful 20-minute multitasking exercise during which they were asked to deal with simultaneous demands like instant messages, alarms, phone calls, texts, and people asking them questions.

Those taught to meditate showed longer periods of time on specific tasks. “Something about their training caused them to change their strategy,” Levy said. “They decided to focus on tasks and ignore what they thought wasn’t important.”

The meditators said they practiced the breathing they’d learned and listened to the little voice in their head saying “slow down.” They focused on the immediate experience and less on their evaluation. “They realized they didn’t have to respond to everything right away, not everything is urgent,” Levy said. “They felt more in control, less tense, less afraid.”

Attention is like a muscle that needs to be trained. If the muscle is untrained, the mind wanders all over the place all day long. The same thing applies to any skill — it takes practice. Media multitasking involves the ability to attend to something and to make a decision. Part of what kids should learn is that they can make a choice.

“When they get a text, they could ignore it, or have a look at it to see if it’s important, then come back to it later if they need to,” he said. “But for a lot of people, they don’t have the strength of mind to ignore the text.”

The key is choice. Training the mind gives the mind more choice about what it’ll do, and make more skillful choices. Rather than assuming that kids will figure this out on their own, Levy said we “need to be talking to young people about it.”

For more information and reference, Levy suggests:



How Meditating Helps with Multitasking 31 October,2011Tina Barseghian

  • Neurobloggie

    Just FYI: The link to the report isn’t working right now, but I was able to google and find it here: Thanks for the article!

    • Anonymous

      Great, thanks for the link.

  • Shifu Kelcey

    We have 6 years of research and development with this and our research shows Meditation is number one to help with multitasking, rectified constitution, patience, unwaivering focus, compassionate living, self reliance and wellness.

  • Randi

    Multitasking has been proven through multiple research studies to be inefficient. Abandon it! Do not train children to do it better. It is not glamorous or cool. Teaching attention is a good thing. Meditation will help.

    • Aeya

      I think the point of the introduction is that multitasking is unavoidable.  Even if all they do is acknowledge the intrusion and decide its value on or over the situation they are currently involved in, it is still considered multitasking.  The meditation is to teach them to be able to step back from their situation, and be able to make that determination with as little mental interruption as possible.

  • Claudia Gallegos

    Very interesting. Multitasking is not for everybody. The point is to be able to disconnect form your thinking mind and connect with your true self. 

  • Thebenburkhardt

    lmao… There is a Mac box behind the kid…. Got to love Apple. Let’s just slow down for five minutes at least every day.

  • Circleoftheway

    We dont need to teach our children to multitask.  We need to teach them how to have stable minds with focused attention.  We need to teach them how to discern.  It is only then well into adulthood that the developed aware mind will be able to deal with a multitude of issues.

  • Suresh Srinivas

    Prof Dan Siegel has a new book out called the Whole Brain Child that addresses this issue. I also think activities like yoga or tai-chi where they learn to pay attention is great. I have also seen some studies that suggest music help with focus and attention.

  • Most of the brain research I’ve read makes a distinction between multitasking and task switching. I think we are overusing the term “multitasking” which is equating
    Our brain with a computer processor. Computers can process
    Many “tasks” at once just slowing a bit as additional “tasks” are assigned.. A brain just doesn’t work that way.

  • Meditating as take break for ourself

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