Teenagers tend to be practiced multi-taskers, shifting gears between homework, television, cellphone and computer. As teens seek to fill every minute of the day with as much as possible, they may cross the line from effective multitasking to distractions. Many activities can cause distractions for teenagers that are at times a mere nuisance, while other times the cost of distraction could have permanent repercussions.
The prefrontal cortex in a teenager’s brain is not as developed and finely tuned as an adult brain. In fact, teens tend to use the amygdala part of the brain instead of the prefrontal cortex when confronted with a task or situation, according to authors of “The Adolescent Brain,” published by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. The amygdala specializes in responding to fear, threats and danger, and the prefrontal cortex generally bears a responsibility for reason and judgment. This difference in a teenager’s brain makes it more difficult for a teenager to respond to situations that require decisions, judgments and distractions.
Teens tend to enjoy a variety of gadgets that can contribute to distractions, warns Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company's website. Some common gadgets include portable media devices such as iPods and cellphones. With a portable electronic device, a teen has connectivity for music, Internet, chatting, texting and voice conversations. The distractions can occur virtually anywhere, including home, school, work and while driving. If a teenager becomes distracted while driving, the youngster's lack of experience coupled with distraction could result in a disastrous outcome.
Friends and peers can distract a teenager and even influence risk-taking behavior. For example, when driving with friends present in a vehicle, a teenage driver is likely to be negatively influenced by passengers. Possible risky driving behaviors include speeding, weaving in and out of traffic and tailgating, according to experts at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
With media devices existing in the background, such as television, a music system, a computer or a gaming system, teenagers often hover back and forth between focusing on this content and focusing on other tasks. For example, an adolescent might choose to listen to music and keep an IM program active on his computer for ongoing conversations while he tries to work on his geometry homework. The problem with trying to work at this distracted level is that the brain struggles to bounce back and forth between tasks, states David E. Meyer, director of the Brain, Cognition and Action Lab with the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, according to the American Psychological Association. Every time the brain changes focus, it needs to catch up again from where it left off, making work less effective and tasks take longer.
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