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July 20, 2022

In today’s world, it is so easy to become distracted! You starting off doing something, but sooner you are busy with something else. Of course, in a home with young children this is often the mode of the day, but even in using technology you can switch between youtube, facebook, email and texting – therefore the better word to use is Switch tasking. One can also be switching between many tasks in the everyday routine - washing, cooking, cleaning, doing this that and the other. On top of this you can be constantly interrupted, when you have children at home. As a mother, multitasking is necessary (and seen as a prerequisite) to keep everything together. Our kids are also constantly multitasking many things, juggling academics, sports, activities, chatting, texting, friends and family time, to name a few. Thus the question may be, is multitasking (or switch tasking) really healthy?

Recently when I read a book called The Organized Mind, I appreciated the fact that the author (a neuroscientist doing research on brain function) stated specifically that switch/multi tasking is really bad for you. Here is what he said:

“Multitasking has been found to increase the stress hormone cortisol as well as adrenaline which can over stimulate your brain and cause mental fog or scrambled thinking. Multitasking creates a dopamine addiction feedback loop, effectively rewarding the brain for ‘losing focus’ and for constantly searching for external stimulation.”

It may feel like you have achieved a lot, but DID YOU REALLY?

When you are focused on a task which requires sustained focus and energy, it is actually the brain’s more effective mode for cognitive performance. Of course your mind will need to ‘rest’ as it cannot focus all the time continuously, but is the culture of today not encouraging multitasking to the detriment of being able to focus well for a long enough time period?

As a result, is negative multitasking what our children are learning? Is this not why so many children struggle with concentration and focus – the basic requirements to being able to study/learn well? No matter whether you are academically strong or not, to be able to focus on doing a job well will be a required skill in any work or trade.

I believe that learning to focus is key to learning, whether it is reading a book, making notes, writing an essay, doing practical work, building something, doing research or whatever, if you cannot focus you cannot move forward. Rcently I was invited by a friend who has moved to just come and help them focus to get something unpacked so they can move on with the lives. It was interesting to watch how very distracted the children (not little ones, teenagers!) were when they were supposed to help. In the end most of the work was done by the adults, and these were not little kids. It was then that I again appreciated the value of focus. What are we modelling to our children? What are we encouraging them to do? Being very busy and good at multitasking, or being able to focus long enough to achieve a specific goal? Remember that multi- (or switch) tasking is not just referring to physical activities but those multiple things all of us do very well and very often on our smartphones...checking our emails, Facebook, texting here and then there etc. As the book also stated, “make no mistake: Facebook, email, twitter and texting checking constitute a neural addiction.” How much of our days include activities where sustained focus is required?

As mentioned in an article I have written many years ago (read it for free HERE), one of the mistakes we as homeschoolers can make, is to lose focus. There are different seasons to focus on different things, the challenge is to know what to focus on when, and to let go of those things not necessary for now. This is a value system we may also want our children to learn, so they can be effective in not only managing their time but also in being really productive.

So the question we need to ask ourselves is: Do we help our children to focus long enough to do a task well, or do we encourage multitasking? Are WE able to focus long enough to do a task well, or do we lose focus easily and look for external stimulation? The answers to these questions will determine if our children eventually reach their goals, big and small, or not. And since failure is universally defined as not reaching one’s goals, this is a critical aspect to address in our homeschooling.

Let us not encourage our children to become easily distracted, and lose out on the satisfaction that comes from doing a job well.

Until next time, Willemien

In the end there doesn’t have to be anyone who understand you. There just has to be someone who wants to. – Robert Brault

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