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BE A PRO ONLINE Learning how to balance the time we spend with media with all of life’s other activities is one of the most essential skills of the digital age. Because of the ubiquity of digital devices (especially those that are mobile!), it’s easy and tempting to stay connected 24/7. So it is important to know how and when to disconnect. As author Douglas Rushkoff writes in his new book, Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now, “By dividing our attention between our digital extensions, we sacrifice our connection to the truer present in which we are living.”


Balance is an especially important skill to teach our children, because kids today spend more time engaged with media than they do in any activity other than sleeping [2]. And who can blame them? The online world is loaded with interesting and entertaining activities designed to capture and hold our attention.

How To Use This Guide

While young people participate in a number of positive activities online, such as using the Internet for school work (85%) [3], and staying in touch with friends they rarely see in person (82%) [4], there are some downsides too. One of these downsides is spending too much time with technology.

This guide accompanies the BE A PRO Online: Balance video which hopefully you just watched. If you are reading this guide online then simply click the links within to access the material they reference. You can also print this guide in order to have a hard copy on hand. Either way, we hope you find the information within useful. Enjoy!

Research shows that young people look to adult role models to learn how to conduct their online lives [5], so it’s important for us to be mindful of our own time with digital media. Achieving a healthy balance between online and offline activities is a lifelong skill that we can all learn and practice together.

WHAT THE RESEARCH SAYS A 2010 study from the Kaiser Family Foundation [6] of more than 2000 8- to 18-year-olds found that children and teenagers in the United States spend an average of more than 7 hours/day with media. In fact, they spend more time with media than they do in school or with their families. Additionally, a study of European children [3] conducted in 2011 found that media use is thoroughly embedded into their daily lives: 60% of 9- to 16year-olds go online every day or almost every day. And children are going online at even younger and younger ages. Most young children in developed nations now live in media-saturated homes, schools, and communities [7], so it’s time to give serious thought to the longterm effects of this increased time with digital gadgets.

What It’s Doing to our Kids’ Brains Although our brains can change throughout our lives, neuroscientists, developmental theorists, and psychologists agree that the most critical time for brain development occurs between birth and six years of age. During this time the brain is extremely neuroplastic, developing rapidly as experiences and interactions alter neuro pathways and synapses. Children at this stage learn important skills by observing and interacting with other humans, watching minute facial movements to discern non-verbal cues, for example.

Despite a large body of uncontested research that says face-to-face contact, creative play, hands-on activities, and physical movement are the building blocks of healthy cognitive development, pre-schoolers are spending about four hours per day with media [8]. This is far more time than they devote to


outdoor play! Studies show that the use of technology at this stage can interfere with healthy cognitive development. A second important period of brain development occurs between the ages of 11 and 13 when children are constructing meaningful cognitive functions. During this time young brains begin adding gray matter and pruning old synapses at an alarming rate [9]. In fact, up to 60% of unused connections will be “pruned” in the teenage years, fundamentally wiring the brain for the rest of a child’s life. This second stage of development, ironically, coincides with a spike in media usage (of up to 12 hours per day) that occurs when children reach middle school [6]. This is a very good reason to involve teens in lots of healthy experiences that don’t involve screen time.

Neuroscientists have recently discovered that the brain continues to develop its “wiring diagram” well into a person’s 20s, if not beyond [10]. During this entire developmental period, the brain is highly adaptable to and influenced by external environmental circumstances, including sustained interaction with digital media. Gary Small, a psychiatrist at the University of California, Los Angeles, and coauthor of the book iBrain: Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind, finds that young brains are changing in response to Internet use [11]. “We have a generation of digital natives with very strong techno-skills and very strong neuro pathways for multitasking and experiencing partial continuous attention and other wonderful adaptive skills,” Small says. “But they’re not developing the face-to-face human contact skills.”


According to Small, even though there isn’t strong data about this yet, the idea that young people, especially, have more difficulty interacting with people in person when they are texting other people with near-constancy is evident all around us. Research is beginning to show that young people appear to possess less ability to demonstrate empathy, recognize social cues, focus for extended periods of time on one task or on a linear thought. According to Michael Friedlander, head of neuroscience at Baylor College of Medicine and a member of the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives, “Kids who are spending all of their time interacting through this cyber world are very likely to not have the opportunity to develop sets of skills that are innate and important to the human brain in terms of what we call “social cognition” [10]. In an interview for the New York Times, Dr. Sherry Turkle, author of Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other explains it like this: Human relationships are rich; they are messy and demanding... Email, Twitter, Facebook, all of these have their places... But no matter how valuable, they do not substitute for conversation... When we communicate on our digital devices, we learn different habits [12].

In short, experts are discovering and beginning to suggest that children and teens should learn to moderate interactions with media [2]. Here, however, is the interesting dilemma this poses: the frontal lobe, the region of the brain responsible for judicious thinking, or judgment, is still in development far beyond the teenage years. So while kids are being captivated by technology at ever earlier ages, the part of the brain that should be warning, “hey, maybe I’m spending too much time online” isn’t fully functioning yet. So as hard as it is for adults to know when to step away from their digital devices, it’s even harder, if not impossible, for kids to do the same. In other words, they need our help. It’s important for grownups to understand this brain research so we can help young people balance time spent with media with all of life’s other rich activities. Additionally, it’s our job to help young people learn how to use the time they do spend online productively. While there are loads of positive ways to spend time with media — making movies, uploading photos, “Skyping” with family members, or keeping a blog, for example — many young people are navigating the digital world unaided and unsupported in these positive activities.



Much of the time that kids spend online is spent “multitasking,” working on a homework assignment while listening to music, texting, surfing the Internet, and keeping up with each other on social networks. Ask any kid, and they’ll probably tell you that they’re pretty good at keeping track of all these things at once. But the fact of the matter is, they’re not. None of us, it turns out, is very good at multitasking at all. According to Stanford University professor Clifford Nass, who studies multitasking: It turns out multitaskers are terrible at every aspect of multitasking. They’re terrible at ignoring irrelevant information; they’re terrible at keeping information in their head nicely and neatly organized; and they’re terrible at switching from one task to another [13]. A large body of solid scientific research conducted over the past two decades indicates that dividing the brain’s attention between two or more tasks simultaneously has its costs, both in performance and time. Multitasking actually entails rapid switching from one task to another, with each switch exacting a toll, at least doubling the time it takes to complete a task and decreasing both the level of performance and the ability to recall what you were doing later on. Study after study has found that multitasking degrades the quality of learning [14]. ___________________________________ Here’s the good news about all this information: We have the ability to choose how balance our time and our attention. We can spend both doing the things that are most important to us, like being truly there and present with the people we care about the most. In doing so we are modeling this behavior for the next generation.



In Cyberculture expert Harold Rheingold’s book, Net Smart: How to Thrive Online, he devotes his entire first chapter to the literacy skill of “Attention,” asking, “can we manage the distraction that our screens afford?” According to Rheingold, “learning how to deploy attention in relation to available media is key today for success in education, business and social life” (pg. 2). We couldn’t agree more! Be sure to watch his video:

Visit the Infotention Network. It provides courses and resources that enable participants to transform their relationship with information to one of sustainable focus, confidence, mastery, and ease. The Network’s programs, curricula, and tools enhance the participants’ ability to source, select, and process information; to transform information into usable knowledge; and to disseminate that knowledge as enriched enterprise intellectual capital.

Attention to Attention in the Age of Screens

From “Impact of Internet on Thinking,” CQ Researcher


RECOMMENDATIONS Be a Positive Role Model

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) policy statement issued in 2010 recommends the following [2]:

Young people look to their parents to learn how to conduct their online lives. So it’s important to think about how much time we spend with media.

• Avoid TV- and video-viewing for children younger than 2 years. Increasing amounts of research have shown that infants and toddlers have a critical need for direct interactions with parents and other regular caregivers for healthy brain growth. Be a• Positive Role Model Limit media time for all other children to 2 hours/day. Young people look to their parents to learn how to conduct their online lives. • Parents of young children and preteens avoidconsideraSo how much time we spend with media should beshould an important tion. exposing them to PG-13 and R-rated movies.

• Be good media role models; children often develop their media habits on the basis of their parents' media behavior. • Emphasize alternative activities. • Create an “electronic media-free” environment in children's rooms.

Although the standard diagnostic manual for mental disorders does not refer to excessive Internet use as an addiction in the U.S., both China and South Korea have named Internet addiction as a primary public health concern. Even though the term “addiction” may not be clinically accurate, for many there is certainly something addicting about Internet use. With ever more technologies being developed daily comes a greater burden on all of us to balance wisely and well. Consider taking the Internet Addiction Test (the first validated and reliable measure of addictive use of the Internet) to assess your own relationship with media.



NetSmart: How to Thrive Online By: Howard Rheingold

Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now By: Douglas Rushkoff

Should You Take a Vacation From Checking Your Email? 8 Easy Ways to Unplug from Technology Your Brain on Computers: Attached to Technology and Paying a Price Technology Changing How Students Learn, Teachers Say Silicon Valley Says Step Away From the Device

iBrain: Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind By: Gary Small and Gigi Vorgan

Limit Children's Screen Time, Expert Urges Center for Internet Addiction Recovery. Psychological treatment center where practitioners research the problem of compulsive use of online devices and sites. Pew Internet & American Life Project. Foundation-sponsored project that conducts research and publishes surveys and reports exploring the impact of the Internet on families, work, education, health care and civic and political life.

Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other By: Sherry Turkle



1. Rushkoff, D. (2013). Present shock: When everything happens now.NY, NY: Penguin.

2. American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), Policy Statement, 2010. 3. Livingston, S., Haddon, L., Gorzig, A., Olafsson, K., Risks and safety on the Internet: The perspective of European children. Full findings and policy implications from the EU Kids Online survey of 9-16 year olds and their parents in 25 countries" (January 13, 2011). EU Kids Online.

4. "Social Networking Web Sites and Teens: an Overview.” Pew Internet & American Life Project, (January 2007).

5. Lenhart, A., et. al., (2011). Teens, kindness and cruelty on social networks. Pew Internet & American Life Project, (2011).

6. Rideout, V.J., Foehr, U.G., & Roberts, D.F. (2010). Generation M2: Media in the lives of 8- to 18- year olds. A Kaiser Family Foundation Study.

7. Pew Research Center (2009, June 17). Home broadband adoption.

8. Chiong, C and Shuler, C., Learning: Is there an app for that? Investigations of young children’s usage and learning with mobile devices and apps. The Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop, (2010). 9. Feinstein, S.G. (2009). Secrets of the teenage brain: Research-based strategies for reaching and teaching today's adolescents. Corwin. 10. Patoine, B. (August, 2008). Brain Development in a Hyper-Tech World. The Dana Foundation. 11. Small, G. W., & Vorgan, G. (2008). iBrain. Harper Collins. 12. Turkle, S. (2012, April 21). The flight from conversation. The New York Times. 13. Interview: Clifford Nass. Digital Nation, Life on the Virtual Frontier. PBS, Frontline. 14. Colin, T. J. (Ed.) 2010, September 24. Impact of internet on thinking. CQ Researcher. 20(33).

Washington DC: Author. Written and Designed By: Diana Graber @dianagraber Thanks for reading! Here are some ways you can “Be CyberWise.” Visit our Website and all of our Learning Centers: or follow us on Twitter:
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BE a PRO, Step 1: Balance  

Learning how to balance time spent online is an essential skill for the digital age.

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