Children are more attuned to distractions around them. “They attend to everything ? the air vents creaking, someone talking. They bounce from task to task. Teachers here say kids have more trouble getting organized, and their attention spans are not as good as they used to be,” says school psychologist Tamara Waters-Wheeler of the Bismarck-Mandan, N.D., public schools.
Studies with college students and adults show that the brain doesn’t work as well when it focuses on more than one task, [David] Walsh says. If the challenge demands a lot of attention, mental performance is particularly poor.
My mother was a fourth grade teacher. She told me once that when she started teaching (circa 1970) she could plan lessons that were about 30 minutes long. After that the kids started getting antsy. By the time she retired (circa 2000), that was down to 15 minutes.
But here’s what I’m curious about. The idea that kids have shorter attention spans these days doesn’t surprise me, and the hypothesis that it’s due to the rise of TV and video games vs. reading and baseball playing doesn’t surprise me either. But what about the flip side? Inability to concentrate is surely a problem, but isn’t the ability to easily flip between multiple tasks a corresponding benefit? In fact, given the faster pace and increased complexity of the world today, I sometimes wonder if the tradeoff isn’t a pretty good one.
Has anyone ever studied the benefits of facile multitasking? There must be some, even if us stone age types don’t immediately see it.