Multitasking or Scattered and Unfocused?

Is Social Media Helping or Hurting Attention and Executive Function?

Have you watched a high school or college student do homework recently?  It’s quite a fantastic display of multi-tasking.  Or is it?

I am amazed at how young people can switch so rapidly between Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snap Chat, and texting, all while doing an assignment or studying for a test.

Is this a coordinated multitasking skill or is it actually more related to a scattered, unfocused mind?

I am not against technology.  In fact, like everyone else these days, I have no idea how I could live without it, but it does have its drawbacks.  I believe one of those is making us think that being glued to a video game for hours at a time is an example of sustained focus, or that carrying on multiple interactions in a variety of social media venues is a coordinated multitasking skill.

Many parents come to Stowell Learning Center with concerns about their child or teen’s executive function skills.  Executive function is the CEO part of the brain that allows a person to monitor, control, and evaluate his or her own attention and behavior.  Our executive function allows us to organize time and materials, solve problems, make decisions, and delay gratification.

Multimedia multitasking may be impressive, but a far better example of good executive function would be the student who turns off all social media while studying, and puts their complete focus and attention on the single task at hand.

Developing New Habits

Parents can help students develop this kind of a habit by setting up a specific time and/or place for homework.  When kids go to their homework spot or when the homework clock starts, there is no social media or texting allowed.

Be sure to build in short breaks where students can get up and move and check their social media, but breaks should be a specific amount of time and social media should not be brought into the homework space.

Kids need to be involved in developing the structure of homework time and space, but once decided, everyone needs to agree to stick with it for a week or two.  Then you can evaluate and tweak it, and repeat the process until you have it just right.

What if Executive Function Isn’t Really the Problem?

Sometimes, what looks like an executive function problem to a parent is really a symptom of a learning challenge.  There are many underlying skills, such as memory, auditory and visual processing, language comprehension, processing speed, and sensory integration that are needed for easy, efficient learning.  If any of these areas are weak or underdeveloped, it can cause the student to have to work harder and longer than they should, make more mistakes than expected, and struggle with attention.

Students with learning and attention challenges can be supported with good habits and structure, but these are not likely to solve the learning problem in the long run.

However, brain research and our experience with thousands of students over the years shows us that most learning challenges, including learning disabilities and dyslexia, can be dramatically improved or completely and permanently corrected.  It will take more than accommodations, traditional tutoring, or support to get their homework done, but it is absolutely possible.

Correcting learning challenges takes identifying and developing areas of weak underlying processing or learning skills and remediating the affected basic academic skills.  Smart children, teens, and adults can become comfortable, independent learners.


If you or your child are struggling with learning or attention challenges and are ready to make a real and permanent change, here’s your next step:

JOIN US for a FREE Parent Information Night.

If you’re feeling alone as a parent trying to help your struggling student, we have a FREE parent support group (P.E.A.C.E.) that’s just for you.

For information and RSVP go to

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