Why Multitasking Is Bad For You And Your Kids

Multitasking Is Bad For You And Your Kids

Multitasking might seem like an amazing idea when it comes to your kids’ homework and progress in studies. But is it actually?

Do your kids try to multitask during homework?

If so, you all probably suffer the consequences of their inadequate sleep, their scramble to finish assignments or submission of work less than their best. Their multitasking forces you to be the bad guy, nagging them to stop the distractions, and having to enforce strict rules about what they can and cannot do on school nights.

Read How Does Homework Affect Students Mental Health

There is no such thing as multitasking

Kids have plenty of things available to do with their time. The problem comes when they want to continue to text or talk with friends, respond to ongoing emails, or play video games when it comes time for homework. With the increasing surge of information and compelling distractions of social media, videos, music, and games at their fingertips, their brains are understandably enticed to engage these distractions while doing homework.

Most kids believe they can have it all by multitasking. The fallacy is that when combining these activities with homework they are getting less done, not more. A harsh consequence materializes as they need to stay up late to finish or perhaps to not even finish when stymied by exhaustion.

This leads to losing concentration from sleepiness or languishing on the next day’s learning ill-prepared from the homework inadequacies, or, in further desperation, copying homework from friends.

To help your children overcome the multitasking trap, you’ll want to understand it well enough to reveal its deceptive nature. Here’s the neuroscience. The brain is designed to limit the conscious focus to one thing at a time. Our ancestors needed a single focus to remain alive in their unpredictable world. The survival-in-the-wild brain we humans inherited from them remains designed for uni-focal tasking.

What feels like doing two things at once actually comprises of the brain shifting its processing from one neural network to another. Each shift comes with the cost of consuming time, mental effort, and brain fuel. Microseconds are wasted as the brain turns off the active network and turns on the next. This not only costs time (which adds up) but also depletes the brain’s critical resources of glucose and oxygen. The result – less gets done and less is remembered.

Now you know why multitasking, the switching between separate tasks, expends more time than the total time it would take to do each task individually. But will that convince your kids? Simply explaining the neuroscience will be perceived as lame and likely unpersuasive enough to motivate them to relinquish the distractions during homework time.

Read The Myth and Danger of Multitasking


Explain-Motivate-Prove-Guide is the four-step approach to help your kids reduce their time lost into the black hole generated by multitasking (and improve family harmony).


Let your kids know that you understand why they want to multitask. If you sometimes fall into the same behavior trap yourself, triggered by a time crunch or boring activities, share with them the type of things that lure you into the illusion of multitasking.

Most importantly, explain that multitasking…isn’t. Here’s the way I’ve explained it to family, students, and patients.

“When you multitask, such as talking/texting, or watching TV while doing homework, your brain actually switches between the separate tasks. You may think you are getting more done, but each time your brain redirects tasks it loses efficiency. With each shift of attention between tasks, your brain expends extra energy and absorbs less of what you read or did. The result is it takes longer to complete each task and you remember less.”

Along with your explanation, you’ll want to be sure to sprinkle in bits of motivation you’ll soon read about in the section about how they’ll achieve more in less time. You’ll also want to assure them that there are lots of strategies they can choose to avoid the distractions enticing them to multitask when they discover (and they will) that single-tasking yields more free time.

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Dr. Judy Willis, a board-certified neurologist combined her 15 years as a practicing neurologist with ten subsequent years as a classroom teacher to become a leading authority in the neuroscience of learning. With her unique background as both in neuroscience and education, she has written seven books about applying neuroscience research to classroom teaching strategies.View Author posts