Many of us, as adults, pride ourselves on our ability to multitask. Think you're good at it? Just ask a 12-year-old about multitasking while she watches TV with her earphones on, rattling off a dozen texts in a few minutes. She will look at you with a strange look. This is just what she does most of the time; she doesn't think of it as something to be proud of—it's just the way she operates.
Studies—and, certainly, parental experiences—show that digital natives can concentrate on more than one thing at a time. In my opinion, the huge percentage increase in the diagnosis of attention deficient disorder in American children in the past 20 years is largely due to a combination of two factors: First, they can concentrate on more than one thing at a time; and second, we don't think they can! Now, of course, there are children who truly do have ADD, just as there are adults that do. I just think that we, as parents, have overreacted a bit.
My aha! moment regarding this happened when my stepson Jordan was 13 and in the eighth grade. One evening at the dinner table, he said he had a lot of homework, so, wanting to be a good parent, I waited 45 minutes before I went into his room to make sure he was actually doing his homework. When I opened the door, I saw his TV on, his headphones half on his head and four instant messaging windows open on the computer on which he was doing his homework. I started to feel the parental anger rise up within me. I was about to say something strong, when it hit me: Jordan was a straight-A student! At that moment, I realized I was about ready to rag not because he was doing something wrong, but because there was no way I could do homework like that. When I was his age, I had to turn off the radio and shut the door to my room to be able to concentrate. To this day, I cannot write creatively with the TV on.
This seems to be a universal experience with parents of digital natives. When I speak to audiences, I ask for a show of hands of parents who have children under the age of 18. I tell that story about Jordan and his homework. When I get to the part about opening the door to Jordan's room, I ask those who raised their hands, "And what did I see?" They all answer things like "the TV was on," "music was playing," "texting." Guaranteed audience response, every time!