Released November 19, 2008
MANHATTAN, Kan. – In high schools and on college campuses, it’s not unusual to see a student leaving class insert the earpiece for an MP3 player in one ear and, after punching in a number, lift his or her cell phone to the other ear to begin chatting on the way to the next class.
At first glance, the student will appear tuned into technology – and able to multitask.
In reality, the new electronic input is interfering with the lessons learned in the previous class, said Charlene Kamper, a veteran teacher and well known speaker on teen issues, learning, and relationships from The Dibble Institute. The institute is a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping young people learn the skills necessary for successful relationships and marriages.
Kamper, who made a presentation recently at Kansas State University, has more than 25 years of experience teaching junior high and high school students. She works in the area of Family Studies, is a Certified Family Life Educator with the National Council on Family Relations, and understands the benefits of technology in the classroom and larger world.
“Still,” she said, “students’ use of so much technology is altering the developmental and educational process.
“The brain is capable of parallel processing, and when a student leaves class, his or her brain typically continues processing the educational message for a longer period of time,” Kamper said.
Too much input at one time from multi-tasking, especially if the stimuli are unrelated to each other, can slow down the brain’s ability to link thoughts efficiently, she said.
“We now know that during the teen years, the prefrontal cortex of the brain -- the part that is responsible for analysis and judgment -- is the last area to wire strong connections for thinking. We also know that use of electronic technologies stimulate different parts of the brain, rather than areas of the brain responsible for tasks such as reading and creative cognition.
“Teachers are seeing high school students with skills typically seen at the eighth grade level 10 years ago,” said Kamper, who noted that 10 years ago, students spent about 25 hours a week engaged with computer technology. “Today, students are averaging 40 or more hours a week with various technologies.”
“With information and answers just a click away, today’s teens are falling short when it comes to deductive reasoning and problem-solving on their own,” she added.
“Building vocabulary and interpersonal communications skills are also suffering,” said Kamper, who noted that teens who spend many hours engaged in technology also are experiencing feelings of isolation, even from their family.
“The time spent engaged in technology is also taking away from healthy physical activity that is important in regulating body function and brain chemistry,” she said. And, while it’s true that teens are maturing physically at a younger age, social maturation and the ability to form close relationships – or connections – with each other is coming much later in life.
“The teen years have typically been a time of social interaction and adjustment, yet, given the virtual nature of technology, many of today’s teens seem to be struggling with this important skill area,” said Kamper, who noted that teens in her California classroom might have a “friend” online in Toledo, but not know students who are sitting on either side of them.
“Making friends online is easy, but artificial,” she said. “The other person knows only what you want them to know, and the electronic communications diminish the opportunity to read body language or interpret intent.
“If not feeling chatty or friendly today, there is no need to log on,” she said. “Basically, the ‘friendship’ is partially determined by the on/off switch on the computer.”
Kamper advocates the educational and recreational benefits that technology can provide, but encourages parents and families to limit the time their children spend engaged in technology.
“Balancing activities is important,” said Kamper, who offered tips for parents:
- Position the family computer in a public part of the home, where parents can casually monitor computer use.
- Limit the time spent on the computer, cell phone, MP3 player and electronic games.
- Take time out – turn off electronics during family meals and activities.
- Talk with your children and encourage family activities, rather than using technology (the computer, video games, the Internet) as a babysitter.
- Plan family time, a picnic, walk or bike ride, as well as one-on-one time. Take your child out for lunch, build something together or attend sports or other events together.
- Let children of all ages know you are there for them and willing to listen when they are ready to talk. Encourage conversation – find topics the teen is interested in.
- Set a good example. If the phone rings while talking to a child, let it ring.
- Introduce teens to a variety of people to help them get acquainted with a larger world.
- Attend parent-teacher conferences and ask how you, as a parent, can help to support the educational process for your child.
Kamper typically spends one semester each year teaching high school students and the other semester traveling and speaking to educational and community groups about teens and how they and their families can build positive interpersonal relationships and communications skills. She is the author of “Connections: Dating and Emotions” and “Connections: Relationships and Marriage.” Both are published by The Dibble Institute.
More information on managing family relationships is available at county and district K-State Research and Extension offices and on the Extension Web site: http://www.oznet.ksu.edu and also The Dibble Institute’s Web site: http://www.dibbleinstitute.org.
Contacts: Charlene “Char” Kamper, 909-798-3115, firstname.lastname@example.org
Elaine Johannes, 785-532-5773, email@example.com