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Cyber smarts for children

Cyber smarts for children

Students can stay connected without getting distracted

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Cyber smarts for children

Homework. It s tedious, boring and time-consuming. The nightly slog through assignments and test preparation can be stupefying, brain-numbing and painful.

Thank goodness, your children have diversions.

After all, without television in the background, Vines to check and frequent Tweets to send, their daily joy quotient would be greatly reduced.

Aren't they fabulous for being able to juggle several media tools at once?

Not so much. In fact, they are spending more time on their homework and absorbing less, say media experts including Joanne Cantor, professor emeritus of communication science in the Department of Communication Arts at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Cantor bases her argument on research and on her own presentations, including those to college freshmen.

"They think they can multitask. They've never tried not multitasking," she said.

A certain realization set in when Cantor had students do an exercise in which the brain must quickly switch tasks.

"They were blown away. It took them so much longer and they made so many mistakes," she said.

"By the end of my talks, they realize they can't multitask as well as they thought," said Cantor, author of "Conquer CyberOver-load," (CyberOutlook Press, 2009)

Even with that knowledge, students and their parents probably won't revert to pre-texting days. But Cantor said it is possible to get control over multitasking.

Here are some tips:

• Turn off devices for a block of time.

"It's very hard to ignore buzzes, but if you can turn them off, it will help," Cantor said.

• Establish relationships with five or 10 close friends. Enjoy face time with them instead of tweeting dozens of people you don't know.

• Push though frustrations. You don't have to break for Instagram/Vine/Twitter when you can't do a calculus problem.

"Work for half an hour. You will discover that the half hour was so much more productive than you expected. Your brain can focus if you let it," Cantor said.

The payoff may be more free time or better grades, she said.

For students who determine that electronic distractions are causing them to spend more time than necessary on term papers or quizzes without getting better grades, the question might be: Why engage in media multitasking?

Perhaps because it makes them feel better. That's a conclusion Ohio State University associate professor Zheng Joyce Wang based on her study of college students who tracked their multitasking habits for four weeks.

Thinking they were able to multitask boosted the students' egos.

When the need to concentrate on studies increased, the volunteers were more likely to turn to distractions — even though they realized they weren't meeting their study goals.

"You know you're doing worse cognitively, but you feel better," Wang said. "It's emotional conditioning. The feelings are a reward."

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