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Are Too Many Devices Hurting Kids?

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As I write this article on my laptop, I have a mobile phone in front of me, a smartwatch strapped to my wrist, and a tablet charging across the room. I need to focus, yet I’ve allowed myself to be at the mercy of all my devices: email alerts, text message beeps, and a steady vibration reminding me to breathe

Multiple screens may very well be taking over my life. But what about our kids? Are they also falling prey to constant demands on their attention? The latest studies say teens spend an average of eight hours a day using screens. During that period, 29% of their time is spent looking at multiple media streams simultaneously.

Many Devices, Many Mistakes

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A lot of  people who consider themselves serial multitaskers think that working off several screens makes them more productive. But studies say differently. Dividing your attention can result in negative consequences such as lower cognitive ability and hasty decision making.

Teens texting in class

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The most ubiquitous screen is the mobile phone. It sends a stream of alerts throughout the day that can be distracting and interrupt the flow of learning.  Ninety-one percent of higher education students text in class. Children as young as five years old multitask while doing their homework.

A majority of students admit to occasionally doing their homework while watching television (51%), utilizing social media (50%), mobile devices (60%), or listening to music (76% ).

Media multitasking has a negative effect on learning. Students who multitask take longer to understand lessons, show less accuracy in their answers, and demonstrate a lack of depth in their understanding of material.

Cognitive Impacts of Media Multitasking

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Most American college students use electronic devices while studying, in lectures, or while working on assignments.

College students learn less when:
-  splitting focus between reading textbooks and using a mobile device text message

- social networking and instant messaging while studying or learning

Splitting a student’s focus while studying results in lower overall comprehension and correlates to lower overall GPAs.

What should parents do to lessen the impact of children multitasking on multiple screens?

Parents need to help their children achieve balance. Set aside screen-free times, don’t let kids use devices inside their bedrooms, and put a limit on screen time. Building positive digital skills early will kids manage screen time as they go off to university and beyond.

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Carrots&Cake is a science-based app designed by parents, teachers, and health professionals that can effectively help your child manage their screen time in a healthy, tantrum-free way. Click here to learn more about the Carrots&Cake solution. 

Also Read: The Science Behind Carrots&Cake


Rideout VJ, Foehr UG, Roberts DF. Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8-to 18-Year-Olds. Menlo Park, CA: Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation; 2010

Sanbonmatsu DM, Strayer DL, Medeiros-Ward N, Watson JM. Who multi-tasks and why? Multi-tasking ability, perceived multi-tasking ability, impulsivity, and sensation seeking. PLoS One. 2013;8(1):e54402

Ralph BCW, Thomson DR, Seli P, Carriere JSA, Smilek D. Media multitasking and behavioral measures of sustained attention. Atten Percept Psychophys. 2015;77(2):390–401

Gorman TE, Green CS. Short-term mindfulness intervention reduces the negative attentional effects associated with heavy media multitasking. Sci Rep. 2016;6:24542 [PubMed]

Pea R, Nass C, Meheula L, et al. Media use, face-to-face communication, media multitasking, and social well-being among 8- to 12-year-old girls. Dev Psychol. 2012;48(2):327–336[PubMed])

Jacobsen WC, Forste R. The wired generation: academic and social outcomes of electronic media use among university students. Cyberpsychol Behav Soc Netw. 2011;14(5):275–280[PubMed]

Rideout V. Zero to eight: children’s media use in America 2013. Available at:

Rosen LD, Carrier LM, Cheever NA. Facebook and texting made me do it: media-induced task-switching while studying. Comput Human Behav. 2013;29(3):948–958

Wood E, Zivcakova L, Gentile P, Archer K, De Pasquale D, Nosko A. Examining the impact of off-task multi-tasking with technology on real-time classroom learning. Comput Educ. 2012;58(1):365–374

Bowman LL, Levine LE, Waite BM, Gendron M. Can students really multitask? An experimental study of instant messaging while reading. Comput Educ. 2010;54(4):927–931

Junco R, Cotten SR. Perceived academic effects of instant messaging use. Comput Educ. 2011;56(2):370–378

Singer DG, Golinkoff RM, Hirsh-Pasek K. Play = Learning: How Play Motivates and Enhances Children’s Cognitive and Social-Emotional Growth. New York, NY: Oxford University Press; 2006

Jessica O'Brien
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