Our kids' relationship with technology is changing the way they think and can lead to distractions.

As an Apple user, my phone, iPad and laptop are all synced, streamlining my life as I work from home.

However, there are times when I’m working on a creative essay and I need silence to “hear” my own thoughts, a tough thing when my phone calls ring through my laptop, and I’m bombarded with text messages, Facebook alerts, and email notifications.

It takes an iron will to work without any electronic distractions these days

But how does this affect learning, or our ability to acquire new information and make inferences?

Our Relationship with Technology

Our incessant digital multitasking also takes its toll on our relationships, which I experience firsthand. I often have a difficult time balancing my time between work and home life, as I am almost constantly plugged-in, whether it be for breaking news stories (related to my field) or for potential job opportunities (the very real aspect of freelancing).

As a result, I find that I’m often on my smartphone or laptop in the evenings, when I should be focusing my attention on time with my husband.

Case in point, this past Saturday I received a Facebook message at 9 p.m. about a possible collaboration, while we were in the middle of family movie night. 

Once my phone dings, I compulsively grab it to check my messages. This message required a more detailed response, so I ended up having to ask my husband to fill me in on the ten minutes I missed of the movie. 

He wasn't pleased.

When it comes to our children, we’re often distracted by our digital counterparts, which can send confusing messages to our kids, but even their relationship with technology messes with the intricate wiring of their brains, in terms of their educational and emotional well-being.

Digital information overload has impacted the way our kids process information, often causing an inability to remember important information.

Technology is Changing the Way We Think

The book, "The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High Tech World", looks at how technology is changing the way we synthesize the information we’re constantly bombarded with.

The implications are a little frightening, but nothing we haven’t already witnessed in ourselves and our children. In a nutshell, technology has transformed our hunter-gatherer instincts into a never-ending quest for information, to the point of distraction.

Likened to an addiction, which we’re no strangers to in the digital sense, authors Dr. Adam Gazzaley and Dr. Larry D. Rosen highlight the positive effects of information foraging (goal setting), as well as the negative consequences (information inundation serving as a hindrance or distraction).

While technology has made many of us expert multi-taskers, how much are we missing as a result?

A lot, according to Dr. Gazzaley, “When we switch between tasks, we suffer a degradation of performance that then could impact every aspect of our cognition from our emotional regulation to our decision making to our learning process, as well as real-world activities like school and work and safety on the road.”

Gazzaley also explains that our success in memory is directly related to our brain’s subconscious ability to filter out unnecessary information. 

"If you process information around you that is irrelevant to your goals, it will create interference. It will degrade those representations in your brain and you will not perform at the same level."

In a very real sense, technology and digital information overload have impacted the way we, and our children, are processing information, often causing an inability to remember that information which is important.

What the Experts Say About Screens

Teachers are challenged with grabbing and sustaining students’ attention, a feat made increasingly difficult with our digitally-distracted brains. 

Says Gazzaley, “Our tendency of distraction is higher than ever before because of technology, because of this unprecedented exposure to information all the time and even the very rapid reward cycle that everyone, especially young people experience in their social lives.”

From causing sleep issues to a proclivity for anxiety and depression in teens, research is showing that parents need to intervene in their children’s digital lives.

However, there’s no need to completely remove technology from your home, says Gazzaley:

“There needs to be some positive acceptance that young people are going to use this technology. I don't think that just denying it is reasonable. I also don't think an extended period of removing technology is likely to be helpful. I think that it is reasonable to take technology "time outs," to have environments and maybe even times where the family interacts with each other and not the outside world through texts. It's sort of a return to the dinner table as a place where you learn how to engage in face-to-face, meaningful contact. Put your tech aside. You can return to it afterward.

Learn more about screen time in our blog Screen Time: How Much is Too Much?

About Lauren B. Stevens

Lauren B. Stevens is a writer, editor & digital parent, whose pieces have been published across the internet and featured in several print anthologies. Lauren lives in the Baltimore area with her husband and son, and enjoys spending her family time hiking and traveling.

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