10 reasons why the “10 reasons to ban handheld devices” article is wrong, stupid

There is a horrible article making the rounds right now from HuffPost written by the new self-appointed leader of the “Save the Children” crusade, Cris Rowan. And this time, she’s after our iPhones! Get the pitchforks Cleetus, we’re gonna have an angry mob!

I feel horrible for even doing this, because rule number 1 of the Internet is “Don’t Feed the Trolls”. Still, if you want to see what bad science looks like when it’s covered in citations you should go read this article (nostrikethat, 2014).

The short version (although it’s hard to summarize a listicle) is that “technology” is destroying the brains of our children and OH GOD WON’T SOMEONE THINK OF THE CHILDREN? Technology is defined as “cell phones, internet, iPads, TV”(The stupid article, 2014), which is good because I would hate to have to rip out my toilets. Lucky for the Nostrikethat household, Poop Vanishing Technology is exempt!

So far.

There are many things wrong with this article. There is hysteria. There are selective readings of research. There’s entirely too much source citation for HuffPost, which, let’s face it, is not known for it’s scholarly crowd, considering the most popular article right now is about “Hot Facebook Mom”.

I mean serious, it makes People magazine look like the Economist
It makes TMZ look like the Foreign Policy Review

It was the ol’ “beating me to death with the APA style guide” that set off my BS detector. Like when people use the word “utilize”: consciously or not, they’re trying to puff themselves up a bit, to inject some credibility. Or, like when a guy tries to grow a beard to seem older and wiser, when he’s really just a horrible mess of a human being and is trying to exert some control on a seemingly random existence.

Which is totally not what I’m doing.

What I am doing is rolling through all ten points, because I needed to write something today and opportunities like this don’t come along very often.

1. Rapid Brain growth

The claim is that overexposure to technologies (again, “cell phones, internet, iPads, TV”) “overstimulates” the brains of children, causing a whole host of Bad Things. A few problems with this claim. First, the source cited is from April of 2004. In 2004, this is what state of the art looked like:

Hello Moto

So the definition of “technologies” can really only mean TV, because that’s the only one that was INVENTED when the study was completed.

Second, the actual study itself only applies to TV.

Oops.

You might also be interested to know that “technologies” are associated with tantrums in children.

As are Cheerios with milk on them and not in a separate bowl.

And getting out of bed.

And putting on pants.

Really, pretty much anything that happens in the vicinity of children is associated with tantrums.

Oh no, my argument has been undone.

Woe.

This entry sets the modus operandi for the rest of the article. First, a fact is presented– in this case, children’s brains triple in size between zero and 2. Then, a claim is placed ever so gently next to the fact, so some of that magic Truth Pollen can flake off on to it. The rest is, as my professors used to say, left as an exercise for the reader.

2. Delayed Development

“Technology use restricts movement” she clai-wait, what?

No it doesn’t. You can’t just put a claim like that out there and act like it’s common sense, and therefore true. First of all, have you ever seen a small child jump on the couch while watching TV? It is the most frustratingly exhausting thing ever. In fact, while we’re making spurious claims, I’m going to claim that the existence of the phrase “FOR THE TWELFTH TIME, STOP JUMPING ON THE COUCH” disproves this point.

Second, she makes the claim that the use of technology by children under 12 is detrimental to child development and learning by citing the noted expert, herself.

SHE CITES HERSELF.

The supporting research she cites to support her claim… is her research.

This is occasionally allowed in academia if one is a recognized expert in the field, but unfortunately I think the only person that really recognizes Ms. Rowan’s expertise is Ms. Rowan, and the field is a cow pasture.  

This whole line of reasoning sounds suspiciously like my toddler trying to convince me he can have potato chips… because he can have potato chips.

“If I can have cookies, I can have cookies, right Dadeee?”

3. Epidemic Obesity

Ah yes, the old “TV makes us fat” claim, gussied up for the modern age. It’s never really been that terrifying (possibly because we learned it while watching TV) so it was due for an overhaul, I guess. Here’s the problem with this claim.

It is absolutely impossible that this claim is true.

No amount of screen time will generate calories in humans.

BOOM! SCIENCE!

If there is one thing the fractured world of food science can agree on, it’s that eating food “is associated with” gaining weight.

Will staring at a screen all day make you feel like a lazy fat slob? Absolutely…but, and this is a crucial point, it won’t make you actually fat. You’ll feel horrible and you’ll have a whole host of other medical problems associated with a sedentary lifestyle, but the act of sitting on your arse all day doesn’t make the fat appear, it’s the eating-more-Fritos-than-the-energy-you-expend-clicking-the-remote that’s making the fat magically appear on your waistline.

Or the insulin-imbalance-from-over-consumption-of-refined-sugars.

Or practically anything else.

Genetics.

God– if He wants to smite thee in slow motion.

Life is hard enough when you’re a fat kid, now you’ve gotta be fat and bored too?

4. Sleep Deprivation

Ms. Rowan employs a different device here. First we are numbed with statistics: 60% of parents don’t monitor technology, and 75% of children are allowed technology in their bedrooms. Then, cite a study (from Boston College) that states 75% of children ages 9 and 10 are sleep deprived to the point where their grades suffer. You see the connection right? They have technology in the bedroom, and this proves that technology is causing them to not get enough sleep!

The citation was a little harder to dig up, but the source she cites is a BBC article reporting on the Boston College study. She omits one crucial bit of reporting, however. “What the study does not show is why young people are missing out on sleep“.

Here’s another, equally likely explanation:

9 and 10 year old children in industrialized nations have two parents that work, so they don’t get home from daycare until 6, don’t eat dinner until 7, then spend two hours doing homework, and then spend an hour actually talking to their parents and going to bed at 10, so they can get up at 6 the next morning so the can be dropped off at before-school care again.

Or you know, iPads are bad.

iBads.

doublefacepalm

5. Mental illness

The claim is that technology overuse is “implicated as a causal factor in rising rates of child depression, anxiety, attachment disorder, attention deficit, autism, bipolar disorder, psychosis and problematic child behavior (Bristol University 2010, Mentzoni 2011, Shin 2011, Liberatore 2011, Robinson 2008).” Sounds serious, and there are 5 citations!

IVZAS

The Bristol University citation leads to a web page describing a report published in the American Journal of Pediatrics. So far so good, this one might check out! Then we get to this gem in the source: [emphasis mine]

“According to the activity monitor, the children in the study who spent more time sedentary had better psychological scores overall. Those children who did more moderate physical activity fared better in certain psychological areas, including emotional and peer problems, but fared worse in some areas related to behaviour, including hyperactivity.”

Fail

According to the article, sitting still makes your kid less crazy. Seems true enough, when the kids sit still it makes me less crazy, and I don’t see why I should get all of the psychological benefit.

Now I’m not going to go so far as to make an actual claim, but I have a hypothesis that sitting still correlates more closely to technology use than exercising, excluding Facebook-obsessed Run-My-Map-heads.

Then it says [again, emphasis mine] “Lead author Dr Angie Page from the University of Bristol’s Centre for Exercise, Nutrition and Health Sciences said: ‘Whilst low levels of screen viewing may not be problematic, we cannot rely on physical activity to ‘compensate’ for long hours of screen viewing.'”

Honestly, I didn’t bother to read the rest of the cited sources. I think the damage has been done here.

6. Aggression

vkKyM

Something something Grand Theft Auto V something something.

Why don’t video game critics understand that games have ratings on them, and they actually mean something? Grand Theft Auto is rated “M for My God I can’t believe she trotted out a game made for adults as an example of violent media for children”.

There is actually some very good research behind the consumption of “violent” TV, Films, and Video Games and how it provably affects girls and boys by making them behave more aggressively. The mistake Ms. Rowan makes is conflating the media with the medium.

While I do sometimes want to reach through the TV and sucker-punch Elmo (possibly due to my consumption of violent media), I haven’t observed that reaction in any of my children. Nor am I surprised when the little boy doing karate chops and flying kicks in the super market is wearing a Power Rangers jacket.

None of these observations, though, mean we should ban technology use in children. If we’re going to invent imaginary pointless bans to support, why not ban the violent shows that lead to agression? In fact, I would support a ban of all youth programming that’s not Teletubbies, except that I think it would lead to an across the board increase in pot brownie consumption.

 7. Digital dementia

The claim is that the technology gives us the ADD. Again, the weakness is that studies are cited to make a claim that is not supported by the study.

In this case, the key study is from 2004. “The objective of this study was to test the hypothesis that early television exposure (at ages 1 and 3) is associated with attentional problems at age 7“. Again, TV exposure, not exposure to all handhelds. Second, I found another study from 2006. The title? “There is no meaningful relationship between television exposure and symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.” Isn’t this fun?

usingthatword

Actually, this is kind of fun. On Ms. Rowan’s site there’s a link to another study by one of the authors of the 2004 study, Dimitri A. Christakis, MD, MPH that he published in 2011 called “The Effects of Fast-Paced Cartoons.” This is a great example of how academic papers always say “…and further research is required” — and then further research is performed. I would say that Dr. Christakis is actually an expert in this field, and here’s what he has to say in his 2011 paper:

 “However, the quantity of media consumed has been an unduly emphasized part of the story. It is not that quantity is unimportant, but the effects of media are mediated more by what is watched than how much is watched.’ Simply put, television is both good and bad: there are good programs and bad ones. And, what makes programs good or bad has to do not only with the content itself but with what in communications research are known as the formal features of that content. Some sequences are naturally paced (eg. human-Muppet interactions on Sesame Street), and some are rapid (eg. SpongeBob SquarePants). Others occur in what seems like slow motion (eg, Mr Roger’s Neighborhood). In addition to the pace of the show, formal features include the edits and cuts. Some shows change scenes more than 3 times per minute, whereas others have greater continuity. The “overstimulation hypothesis” is based on the theory that the surreal pacing and sequencing of some shows might tax the brain or parts of it, leading to short-term (or long-term) deficits.”

So here’s the same expert cited by Ms. Rowan theorizing that the “what” that is being consumed is more important than the “how much” (let alone the “on what”), and is seeking to understand why.

He must not be credible after all!

8. Addictions

Edit: After publishing this post in the wee hours of the morning, a few folks have commented that I missed #8 in the original article. Thanks y’all!

See #2, above (NST, 2014). Writing words does not make them automatically become true, even with liberal use of APA style.

This is the problem with signing yourself up to write a list article… you either end up with shifty Continue reading “10 reasons why the “10 reasons to ban handheld devices” article is wrong, stupid”

4 actually useful things to buy a new dad

Following up on the heels of my barely read moderately amusing post 5 New Parent Quote Gifts Unquote I thought I’d try my hand at doing something useful for once already like maybe take out the trash do I have to do everything around here? . So today I am going to focus on the actual most important person in any new baby situation, and that’s the new dad.

My facebook status from the day my most recent child was born. It was a trying day, but I made it through.
My facebook status from the day my most recent child was born. It was a trying day, but I made it through.

Dads, this is going to be tough. Fortunately, if there’s one thing we have experience with at Nostrikethat industries, it’s accidental reproduction how to survive the Shock and Awe from new parenthood.

Remember men, it’s not retail therapy if you’re doing it to Be Prepared.

1. Sound-Isolating Headphones

problem it solves: baby won’t stop crying

Nothing quite says “put a bullet in my brain” like your baby who won’t stop crying. Image via swistle.blogspot.com

There is going to be a time when you will be confronted with a very small human who will not stop crying.

They sound like small angry goats.

“B-B-B-B-B-B-B-B-B-AAAAAAABB-B-B-B-B-B-B-B”

You change them, you feed them, you have wiggled their legs to get them to fart, and they’re still screaming. If you were thinking logically at this point, you would determine these are your options:

  • Keep trying unsuccessfully to calm the child, and continue to accrue cortisol, the stress hormone.
  • Put the child down in a safe place, like a closet crib, back away, shut the door, and listen to the screaming from somewhere else in your house
  • Exit your house

Might I suggest an alternative? A good pair of in-ear headphones will allow you listen to the soothing melodies of Bob Marley while holding your screaming bundle of joy, allowing you to ensure they don’t choke on their own hat while at the same time not going completely insane. This is a great opportunity for you to get some hero points and give your post-partum beloved a much needed mommy break.

Also works well on any car trip longer than 30 minutes, because we’re not allowed to unstrap children and hold them any more in the car.

Thanks, Obama.

2. Baby Backpack

problem it solves: Strollers are horrible

Take it from Legolas, you can’t mow down orcs while pushing a stroller

Women are deeply attached to their strollers. I think because, like minivans, they are an extension of their birth canals.

Now, I have nothing against the idea of strollers, I’m just saying they’re incompatible with important things, like fending off a Ninja attack. A good backpack has far more mobility, and as an added bonus will work your core muscles like nobody’s business.

I tried to find a good picture of a twin baby backpack, and this was what showed up. Best of luck, man!

3. Scottevest alpha jacket

Problem it solves: Diaper bags

“I’ve been strappin’ gatts / since you were cuddlin’ a cabbage patch” Now, unlike Dre, you don’t have to choose!

A diaper bag is really just another purse. And like your wife’s existing purse, you will never be able to find anything in it.

Unless you’re willing to feign incompetence and drop your baby on their head act utterly helpless, you are probably going to have to change diapers. Have your own kit, stuff it into the 35 different pockets in this bad boy, and enjoy hands free baby stuff toting. As an added bonus, the jacket is designed with concealed carry features, which I don’t really understand but sounds badass.

4. Roku media player

Problem it solves: you have no kids TV shows

Seriously, Greatest. Thing. Ever.

Technology is changing so fast, in the 10 years since I have started having kids I’ve gone from primarily VHS, to DVD, to ripped movies, to cloud everything. Whatever you do, you want to avoid having the kids handle anything resembling physical media, because your DVDs will last about 5 seconds before they get scratched. The only thing more infuriating than buying a Barney DVD is buying the SAME DAMN DVD again because it’s a favorite and it has been rendered inoperable. Cloud is where it’s at, and the Roku set top box is the best.

Now, we stream Netflix and it’s the kid’s only source for TV, which I am fine with because they don’t have to watch commercials.  This isn’t a post about cord-cutting, but it’s totally viable with the Roku and maybe an over the air HD antenna for The Sports.

We had an Apple TV first, but the Roku really changed our life for two reasons:

1) It automatically plays the next episode in a season. A lot of the programs for the wee ones are 6-10 minutes long, and sometimes you just want to plunk the kid down in front of the tube and take a shower without being interrupted to put on the next show.

2) The Roku3 has a headphone port on the remote. Big deal, right? ABSO-FREAKING-LUTELY. Unless you have a giant house, you will probably be somewhere in earshot of the TV, and without fail your child will fall in love with the most annoying TV show in the history of TV shows.

Especially this guy. WHINE MOAR YOU LITTLE TURD

Teaching your toddler to wear an inexpensive set of headphones will save your sanity. Before they’re toddlers, you can just kind of prop them up in front of some kind of Baby Einstein program which is essentially an acid trip committed to video and go have a quiet solitary poop all by yourself. Then when your wife gets back from her much needed “Not wearing spit” time you can be all like “Oh yeah honey no sweat, just me and the kid, dropping some NYC, having a great time” and she will be so relieved to not be wearing baby spit she will totally overlook the obvious drug references.

Just remember Dads, we are unique and special snowflakes, and sometimes to keep from melting we have to take extraordinary measures.  Like Vegas. Vegas is excellent for snowflakes.

Shout out to my brother in law, who is having twin girls Real Soon Now.

Ahem. 

BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

I’ll see you in HELL, sir.

The hidden dangers of Minecraft (not what you think!)

There’s a pretty good chance that if you’re reading this, you own a computer, and as the saying goes, if you own a computer, eventually your child is going to bug the high holy bejezzus out of you to buy them Minecraft.

In it’s simplest form, Minecraft is a lot like virtual legos.

The only drawback is that virtual bricks have less defensive capabilities against nocturnal barefoot intruders

Where we get into trouble is that there’s more to Minecraft than just Minecraft.

By that I mean Minecraft mods.

Mod?

A “mod”, for the non-gamey types, is a home-grown “modification” to an existing program. The act of modding games has been around almost for as long as the games themselves, and some game companies have decided to build their games in such a way as to make this easier. This, by and large, is a good thing. Games get longer lifespans because fan communities find ways to extend the game, and generations of new programmers are born by creating the mods. So far, so good.

Minecraft has a large, devoted following, including many talented adults (and more than a few teens) who have lent their free time to developing mods. Some of these mods are very simple (like giving your in-game character a pet dragon), and some are very complex (adding new game modes like capture the flag that are not in the base game). Your child will hear about mods from a friend, because if you combine any group of pre-adolescent children together, they will talk about Minecraft eventually. Then your child will Google “minecraft mods”, and be completely and utterly entranced by having a pet dragon. They will download a mod.

And your computer will be well and truly hosed.

Like losing a knife fight to a leprechaun

Mods are hosted on aggregator sites, and those sites make their living off advertising. The number one kind of advertising on these sites are scummy adware downloader crap.

Yes, it improves your ability to download. Their crap.
Yes, it improves your ability to download. Their crap.

This is an actual screen grab of a download site. Now I am a fairly technically-savvy person, but I have to stare at this page for a few minutes before I realize I shouldn’t click a SINGLE DAMN THING on the page. Your average minecraft-addicted child? Not a chance. It’s like a sketchy van with a sign on it that says “Free candy”.

Before you know it, your computer has turned into a truck stop bathroom complete with glory holes and feces wallpaper.

Your pop-ups have pop-ups.

Then, to rub some salt into the already nicely lemoned wounds, the little ingrates complains that “The computer doesn’t work”.

STOP FORNICATING ANYTHING THAT BLINKS BOY! ANY GIRL THAT SAYS SHE’LL MAKE YOUR DOWNLOADS FASTER IS A WHORE!

What to do

If you haven’t already, install the ad-blocker extension for the browsers on the computer the kid uses. Your virus detection probably won’t help you much here.

With Ad-Blocker installed, the spammy stuff never loads and instead your child is presented with this:

This will not give you computer AIDS.
This will not give you computer Ebola.

Ad-blocker is a wonderful thing. Get it now.

The other thing you can do is make sure your child has their own account on the computer, and it’s set up for kids. Mac users have an advantage here over Windows, because Mac OS has much better user-level security controls than Windows. Even with Windows 8, which has the best family safety controls of any Windows version to date, it’s still very possible for a user to inadvertently install an application.

Here’s a good article for how to do this on a Mac.

Here’s a good article for how to do this on Windows 8.

If either of these articles are beyond your technical abilities, find yourselves a good high-school nerd and flash them some side boob/leave out some booze as appropriate.

With these measures in place, you are going to filter out a lot of the bad stuff before it ever gets to your computer. There are still bad guys taking advantage of Minecraft’s popularity to insert viruses into popular mods, but here your more old-fashioned virus protection stuff can help you. I prefer Kapersky, because the company was founded by an Ex-KGB spook, which is pretty badass.

Just keep digging…

As a parent and a gamer, I tried to get into Minecraft but I think the part of me that could build anything other than a house with four walls died somewhere around age 16 so I could never get too into it. All of my kids who are old enough to operate a mouse, however, love it, and it’s fascinating as a parent to watch how each child interacts with the game.

My 6 year old is constantly starting over- building from scratch is part of the fun for him. My 9 year old daughter is stereotypically obsessed with the virtual cats and dogs and horses that populate the game, and my 11 year old has figured out how to connect to other computers so he can swear at other people over the Internet in competitive Minecraft (sometimes called PVP, or player versus player). Overall, it’s been a net-positive for the kids.

There has been some coverage in the media about whether or not it’s an “addiction”, but these are the same old arguments that have been rehashed since I was a kid in the 80s and 60 minutes did a story on how Dungeons and Dragons would cause your kids to commit suicide, or some bullsh**. The world of children only occasionally intersects with reality, and that’s always hard for parents to deal with.  Video games are freaking awesome, and they’ve killed off a lot of competition in the entertainment universe.

Sorry puzzles, you're fucked.
Sorry puzzles, you’re hosed too.

Like anything else, it just comes down to good old fashioned, low-tech parenting. Turn off the screens, kick them outdoors, and ignore them to the best of your abilities. However, taking a few steps to bubble-wrap your kid’s adventures on the Internet will go a long way to cutting down the amount of PC repair you have to do and prevent any long term damage that might come up.

Shout-out to the Lunatic Autism Mom for the blog post inspiration!