Screening out distractions

The first item on Dr. Paul Mohapel’s agenda during a free presentation for parents of the impact of technology on the developing brain was leave your devices at the door. - Ashley Degraaf
The first item on Dr. Paul Mohapel’s agenda during a free presentation for parents of the impact of technology on the developing brain was leave your devices at the door.
— image credit: Ashley Degraaf

It was a presentation geared toward children’s developing brains and the impact of technology.

But when presenter Dr. Paul Mohapel asked the adults in attendance to leave any devices, tablets, phones, iPods, at the door, the reactions told a different story.

And it illustrated Mohapel’s keynote message: parents need to lead by example if we want to see the next generation thrive. They need to set boundaries for not only for their wee-ones, but themselves too.

“How does that feel?” Mohapel asked after his request to ditch the devices.

Some participants looked around in disbelief, shuffling their devices in purses, others laughed at how silly it seemed as they struggled to say goodbye, while some actually were refreshed to take a break.

The Impact of Technology on the Developing Brain was a free presentation for parents, sponsored by the Cowichan District Teachers’ Association Professional Development Committee. It attracted a fairly good turnout at the Quw’utsun’ Cultural and Conference Centre on a sunny evening May 1.

Royal Roads University professor Mohapel, a father of two, shared some startling statistics, and educated the audience about why technology leads to learning roadblocks.

“We are supposed to be human beings, but we think we are human doings,” said Mohapel, who studied brain science in Sweden for 15 years. “We think it’s more important to be doing all the time. The more, the better.

“The underlying message is you have to be connected or you’ll fall behind from others.”

In 2013, Canada was one of the heaviest users of internet in the world.

Canucks spend on average 41.3 hours per month on the web, while the average hours calculated for users across the planet was at 24.

Even scarier, a 2009 study showed children under age five were spending 2 1/2 hours a day behind some sort of screen, whether that be a TV, an iPad or another device. And even worse, another study found kids between the ages two and five could play a video game on a tablet before knowing how to tie their own shoes.

Technology is creating a ‘multi-tasking’ lifestyle that not only adults are embracing but passing along to their offspring.

And that’s not so cool, says Mohapel.

“Why do we multi-task?’ he asked the audience.

“Our lives are so busy and we have so many choices,” one audience member offered.

Multi-tasking can be addictive, according to Mohapel, but it also releases stress hormones.

And most of us aren’t capable or good at toggling our brains back and forth between two tasks, thus it actually slows down our performance.

“Multi-tasking is one of the worst things we can do,” he said.

Other learning roadblocks he introduced during the presentation included reading passages on screens versus in real life on paper, noting scrolling through text on tablets or computers tends to make us skim rather than soak up the information. The internet is also full of the distractions, including ads, links and pop-ups that tend to trap our attention spans.

“The internet is optimally designed to be the biggest distraction,” said Mohapel.

And because of these roadblocks, we’re now seeing many children falling behind in school, being diagnosed with attention deficit disorders, psychiatric disorders from a lack of family time spent together, and simply gaining less social skills as kids did in previous generations.

And circling back to the message arrived at the beginning of the presentation, even more adults are now being diagnosed with attention and concentration disorders.

“One common element that all these people were doing at work, or wherever, was they were multi-tasking,” said Mohapel.


Suggested reading

• Leo Babauta’s Focus: A Simplicity Manifesto in the Age of Distraction

• Frances Booth’s The Distraction Trap: How to Focus In A Digital World

•  Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains

• David Dillard-Wright’s Meditation for Multitaskers: A Guide to Finding Peace between the Pings

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