10/12/2011 12:46 pm ET Updated Dec 12, 2011

Kids And Technology: The Three Biggest Myths About Distracted Youth

By Cathy N. Davidson on Speakeasy

Whenever I lecture on the science of attention, I hear the same litany of fears from parents and grandparents worried about the distracted state of those born after 1990. Pundits have made an industry of telling us how the Internet has made youth distracted, how their switched-on life is destroying their brain.

Nonsense. There is no convincing experimental evidence that the act of texting or surfing the Internet hurts young people, not on a neurological level or even a behavioral one. But rather than trot out the research using ECGs or measuring REMs to refute these hyperbolic claims, we can use simple, common sense observation to dispel the three most common myths about the brains of youth today.

Myth #1: Young People Don’t/Can’t Remember Anything Anymore.

The fearful logic is that because kids use Google and speed dial to remember basic facts and phone numbers, they have lost the ability to remember anything.

That conclusion doesn’t follow. Students today don’t bother to memorize what they can easily find online but that’s what tools are for and always have been. In the pre-Internet era of the Yellow Pages (remember those?), adults let our “fingers do the walking.” Tools supplement our skills and even allow us to replace one kind of mental effort with another.

Here is a common-sense refutation of this basic myth. At Duke University, where I teach, the very same students who don’t bother to remember the phone numbers they speed dial can tell you any and every basketball stat from any Duke game played this century—and probably from the previous one too. If there is a social currency in remembering something, people (even young people) continue to remember it. The issues here are interest, ease, and utility—not compromised neuronal capacity.

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