The Rise of Switchtasking Teens: Is Multitasking Really Possible?


The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has set into motion a long train of difficulties as we have been adjusting to life in isolation. The lockdown notice in March 2020 came with little warning as it forced students and workers alike to buckle down in their home offices and download Zoom on their desktops to face the web camera of a new lifestyle.

While many of our young learners were excited to attend class in the comfort of their own bedrooms amidst piles of fuzzy blankets, this rose-tinted world faded into reports of declining mental health among youth. It became increasingly easier to fall into a funk as many only switched from one room to another in between Zoom classes. On top of this, many found themselves grappling with a shorter attention span as computer screens became standard for their days. It felt easiest to multitask as a means of coping with new levels of stress, but what does this mean for our youth? Mental health and the concept of “switchtasking” has developed a new meaning in the age of a global crisis, and it hits much closer to home.

What are the Effects?
Social media has been proven as devastating to the mental health of today’s teens and young adults, especially when the line between social media platforms and everyday work becomes blurred. March 2021 marked a year since the reduction or complete shutdown of social interaction such as travelling, gatherings, and extracurricular activities. With this came an influx of technology usage as people navigate their day-to-day lives at home. 

Brittany Hebert, a local Licensed Professional Counselor, notes the lack of social contact in this pandemic has significantly exacerbated the mental health of children and adults alike. “I’m seeing levels [of depression and anxiety] become more clinical for those whose levels were previously not clinical,” she says. Hebert recounts some children who have not seen their friends in person since March and were ecstatic to be in a classroom for the first time in almost a year, along with honor-roll students whose grades have been reduced to “D”s and “F”s now that their classroom is in their bedroom or at the kitchen table. 

This failure is not to blame on the student, whose anxiety and depression levels can be ramped up due to several factors, one being the hyperawareness of how classmates perceive his or her surroundings on Zoom. 

Along with this, some kids are facing separation anxiety as they may be doing classes at home while their parents are away at work. On the contrary, a child’s poor relationship with his or her family may not yield the best home life, which creates an even tenser environment as he or she spends more time at home. The mental health of a developing human is still susceptible to his or her world’s ever-changing demands regardless of what is happening at home, especially if home is his or her world for the time being. Regularly taking your children on safe outdoor excursions and encouraging them to limit their screen time when possible can help alleviate some of this stress. Even so, the question still lies in how to promote being one-track minded in an age of keeping open multiple tabs at a time.

What is Switchtasking? 
Research has proven multitasking is harmful, yet online learning makes it so enticing to play Tetris while in your Zoom class or scroll through Instagram while completing an assignment. The global shutdown created a significant increase in all online interactions, which is particularly arduous on the minds of kids who are still working to control their attention span and impulse control.

“Your focus doesn’t develop until your early twenties,” says Hebert. Now more than ever, it is easy for kids to struggle with concentration, and this is often the case for those using social media to cope with their intense emotions and the confusing world around them. They may claim they can handle “switchtasking” through their life online, but the truth is, the human brain is not equipped to give undivided attention to multiple things at once. “You can’t truly multitask,” Hebert says. “For three tasks, your focus can be 33, 33, and 33 [percent] or 60, 30, 10, but something still is not getting your full focus. You can’t have more than 100 percent.” Multitasking will only raise any degree of stress and hinder your productivity. With all this extra time on our hands, there are plenty opportunities to teach your children the value of accomplishing things one by one and free of distractions.  

What Can We Do?
There have been innumerable growing pains as we get accustomed to this new decade, and it can take a toll on our young ones if we are not careful. So, among the list of expectations the pandemic has put down should be the expectation that children and teenagers will struggle not only with deeper emotions these days but also with the temptation to juggle an overabundance of screen-ridden tasks and distractions. How do we combat this? You can start by setting up a screen time on your child’s devices to limit his or her media usage and making sure he or she keeps one window open at a time as he or she is working. 

Another important thing to consider is taking a break; it is crucial to have some off periods, so set a timer for a break throughout work periods. It is also helpful to maintain a routine even when the days are monotonous. And finally, remember to take it easy. Check in with your friends and family. These times are trying for everyone, but certainly not impossible to overcome.

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24 Mar 2021


By Emily Drez

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