Why we worry: Tech gadgets are distracting our multitasking teens, who listen to iPods, Web surf, and IM their buddies while doing their homework. Plus, they're bombarded with too much data, which is frying their brains.
Relax. The reality is: our children are learning how to work and think in a complex digital age. "Information is coming at us from all sides, and we have to be able to make sense of it on the fly," says Jenkins. "If kids can tune in to only one thing at a time, they'll be dysfunctional in the workplace." Even Russell Poldrack, Ph.D., the psychology professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, whose recent study showed that people learned best when zeroing in on one thing at a time, is encouraging. "All the science is being done on people who grew up in a very different world than kids today," he says. "It could well be that if you start multitasking at a young age, you'll end up with a brain that works differently and efficiently."
Still, get smart by: learning when to cut your kids some slack when they're doing things like studying while taking IMs or phone calls. Work with your teen and experiment a bit. For example, I've found that Gracie can ace her algebra while plugged in to her iPod, but she can't get a grip on her U.S. history while listening to music. Monitor homework, and if they're struggling with something new or particularly brain-puzzling, insist that they hit the books and nothing else. "Multitasking isn't going to take the place of paying close, focused attention," says Jenkins. "Kids have to be able to do both."