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Balance in the Digital Age

Just being aware of how you use technology can help you work through problems.

Every aspect of our lives has been touched by the dramatic changes in technology over the last several decades. But we still don't understand enough about how our digital lifestyle is changing families and the cognitive development of a new generation of digital natives.

Phones, tablets, and notebook computers are present in a majority of American families and can be a source of tension among family members. There is much debate and controversy over media addiction -- whether it exists and how our digital lifestyles are affecting our ability to focus.

Common Sense is committed to developing research and science to help us understand how we are integrating technology into our lives and the impact of the digital lifestyle on families. Nonprofits, government, and research-based organizations must work together to ensure we continue to develop this understanding of how we are changing along with the technology we create.

Last week, Common Sense released a new survey of parents and teens that shows 77 percent of parents feel their children get distracted by their devices and don't pay attention when they're together at least a few times per week.

A growing number of teens -- 41 percent -- say the same about their parents.

These findings are a wake-up call for families to consider the impact of technology on our lives. The research shows what many of us who are parents feel about our kids. Understanding this as a change that has a broad, societal impact raises important questions for families to wrestle with and work through.

Technology is here, and it does some great things. But there still must be a zone of privacy that allows for human connection -- one that is not diminished by technology.

We still don't fully understand the nature of this "addiction" and its impact on child development. We must continue to study this and work to understand how technology is shaping the lives of our children, even as technology is constantly changing.

We have created a generation of digital multitaskers, and this may be hurting our ability to focus. The early evidence indicates that it is short-circuiting other forms of connection and harming our ability to process and sort information. While this is true for all of us who can't stand to be away from our mobile devices, we must pay particular attention to the effects on children and how technology impacts their cognitive development.

Our recent Common Sense Census (2015) found that more than half of all teens use some other form of media while doing homework. Most of the teens did not feel that their multitasking harmed the quality of their work, but early evidence shows otherwise. Multitasking may decrease productivity because users take time to reorient after a transition and become cognitively fatigued, which slows their rate of work.

Early research also shows that multitasking may make it harder for kids to filter out irrelevant information. We must learn whether attention disorders are being facilitated by our hyperconnected lives and consider what that might mean for the future of our society.

The study also shows media and technology use is a source of tension for many families. Again, just being aware of this can help parents develop strategies to work through the problem.

We have much to learn about how technology is shaping our lives. But first we must understand our own behavior. By understanding the dangers of problematic media use, we can take more control over the ways we use our phones, notebook computers, and tablets in our homes and with our families.

As we continue to integrate technology into every facet of our lives, we must develop strategies and best practices to ensure that we maintain our humanity and ensure that while we are all connected electronically, we do not lose our ability for human connection.

Jim Steyer

Jim is Common Sense Media's CEO and founder -- read all about him here.