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”

The absurdity of toddlers

Toddlerhood is defined by Having Opinions. Our youngest (a.k.a. “Hurricane”) is current smack dab in the middle of Toddlerhood, and so has some Very Definite Opinions, not just on food, but on life in general.  We currently believe:

  • We Can Do It All By Ourselves
  • Animal Mechanicals is Very Silly
  • We are Afraid of the Bathtub
  • Daddy is Very Silly
  • Mommy is the best source of all snacks, and therefore her location must be known at all times
  • NO LET ME DO IT
  • We Can’t Like Grilled Cheese Sandwiches
  • Honeynut Cheerios is the Best Cheerios
  • LET. ME. DO. IT.

If you have not had the mindmeltingness joy of a toddler in your life, imagine your new housemate is a miniature, incontinent Saddam Hussein, complete with lots of shouting, garish outfits, and absurd demands. Here you are, trying desperately to retain what little sanity you might have remaining from having reared them this far, and then they enter The Phase.

It’s as if there was a coup in Nowherezistan and you are now facing a determined terrorist opposition.

Like the United Nations, you meet feverishly with the rest of the security council. There are a lot of speeches made. The new regime is denounced. First, you try to reason with the new dictator and are stonewalled.

Put on your shoes so your feet don’t get cold.

No I caaaaan’t find my shoes.

Carrots are employed.

If you put on your shoes, we can go to Starbucks and you can have some popcorn.

No I want to stay in my jammies!

Sanctions are threatened.

If you don’t hold still and let me put on your shoes, you won’t get popcorn!

NoooooooooOOOOOOOOOO

Finally, the conflicted is escalated.

*Grabs half dressed, screaming child and carries child out of the house*

*screams, cries, kicks, goes stiff as a board to avoid getting strapped into a car seat*

Eventually you win the battle, if only because you’re bigger and stronger and have figured out where on the hips to press to fold a child in half without doing any internal damage, but you are fighting never-ending war of attrition.

I have chemical warfare going on over here. In my pants. Where's your bright red line now?
I have chemical warfare going on over here. In my pants. Where’s your bright red line now?

Without doubt, though, the most frustrating Toddlerisms are food related.

Our children don’t eat so much as graze continuously.

I have been told this is better for them for a variety of reasons –smaller stomachs, faster metabolisms– but for me, it means I can never get the kitchen cleaned up and raisins are everywhere.

Open the bread cabinet, see ... rat droppings? No, just the game "Hide the Raisins"
Open the bread cabinet, see … rat droppings? No, just the game “Hide the Raisins”

And then there’s just the sheer randomness of it all:

  • Cereal, but only Honeynut Cheerios, and only if the milk and cereal are presented in separate containers and he is allowed to pour the former into the latter BY HIMSELF
  • Grilled cheese sandwiches, but only from Panera
  • Chicken nuggets, if presented in pleasing shapes, like dinosaurs
  • Peanut butter and jelly, but must be cut into halves diagonally so as to form triangles, but don’t you dare cut them into quarters or I WILL SHANK YOU

I get it, I have to feed my children, no need to call social services. Also, I have an amazing and wonderful wife, so the kids will always have box of wine three square meals.

We start’em young in the Nostrikethat household

I have been through this four times now, and in a way it does get easier, if only because the bar was set to “survival” a long time ago.

There are perks, though.

No seriously, it's exhausting.
This is moderately worth it.

Ignore parenting is the best parenting

Here at No Strike That we believe that children should neither be seen nor heard, because we’ve got a box of wine that isn’t going to drink itself.

Without question, the best place for children is grandma’s house boarding school. Unfortunately, although I am very well endowed in many places (ahemI drive a Mini Cooper), I come up a little short where it really matters– in the wallet. Since blogging isn’t paying much these days I have to settle for telling them to bugger off go away.

Sure he LOOKS harmless enough... but the dog knows what's up. He's a 36 inch Draco Malfoy in the making.
Sure he LOOKS harmless enough… but he’s actually 36 inches of Satan’s Spawn in the making. Check out the dog– she knows what’s up.

Too much of a good thing

Some time in between Roosevelt and Reagan (I can’t place precisely when it happened) parents decided it was important that they spend Quality Time with their kids. Lead their children in play. Mold their minds. Get involved!

This turned out to be a horrible idea.

50s Dads

Article after article makes the case that over-involvement in the lives of our children deeply and profoundly injures them up for a very long time. My completely unscientific theory that validates my own awesomeness is that we confused us with them.

Us vs. Them

Ever since the Rhesus Monkey Experiments, as a culture we have been trying to be the cuddly monkey all the time. We have succeeded beyond our wildest imaginings, and in doing so a generation of parents have completely gimped a generation of children.

I am personally ecstatic, because while my kids are handicapped by my unfortunate DNA I can raise some lean mean machines who will eat lesser children for breakfast as they hunt each other down Hunger Games-style for minimum wage McJobs.

I don’t think the kids from District 1 had their parents write their Hunger Games application essay, do you?

They’ve gotten to be this way because I’ve done my best to ignore them. On purpose.

As adults, we have figured out most of the necessary elements of life. For example, I am a master at:

  1. Transporting food into my mouth with over 99% accuracy (assuming alcohol isn’t involved)
  2. Sitting in a chair without falling out of it (assuming alcohol isn’t involved)
  3. Not pooping myself (assuming alcohol isn’t involved)

You know who’s not good at these things? My kids. The oldest, who’s 11, still occasionally, and for no apparent reason, falls out of his chair. I thought it might be an inner ear thing at first, but no… he’s just 11. According to his teachers, this is quite common for kids his age.

WHAT.

THE.

ACTUAL.

MRRRGL.

It makes no sense to me. Even though I was (at least on paper) a child at some point the “Why” of so much of what my kids do escapes me. I need peace, quiet, and my box of wine. My kids need to be loud, rowdy, and strapped in to their chairs at dinner because I SWEAR ON THE HOLY BIBLE IF YOU TOUCH YOUR SISTER ONE MORE TIME YOU’RE EATING BY YOURSELF IN YOUR ROOM. Ahem.

The best God is an absent God

Consider this scenario. It’s Monday, you’re late for an important appointment. You’re stuck in traffic and you mutter a prayer. A screenplay breaks out.

“Please, oh Lord, let me make it on time, because rescheduling this one will be a real bear.”

Suddenly, the Lord Almighty is in the passenger seat.

OF COURSE, MY CHILD. LET ME PART THE TRAFFIC.

“My God is an Awesome God!”

You make it to your appointment on time, and then you come back and the Lord Almighty is still sitting in the car.

“Hey God, what are we going to do this afternoon?”

WHATEVER YOU WANT.

“Yay! Let’s eat fried chicken and get really fat!”

SOUNDS GOOD TO ME.

6 months later…

[You’re 50 pounds overweight with Type 2 diabetes and God is still here.]

“Hey God, this has been fun and all… but when are you going to leave?”

WHEN YOU ARE LEADING A HAPPY AND PRODUCTIVE LIFE, OF COURSE.

“Oh… thanks God. I guess. Can I have some more fried chicken?”

OF COURSE, MY CHILD.

10 years later…

[Scene: Therapist’s office. There is a sea-foam green couch, which you and Him are sitting upon. The Therapist is sitting in a worn brown swivel chair. The rhododendron needs watering.]

Therapist: “This is a safe place. We can all feel free to express ourselves here. Why don’t You go first, O Lord?”

ALL I EVER WANTED WAS FOR MY CHILD TO BE HAPPY. NOT SIN. LIVE FOREVER. IS THAT TOO MUCH TO ASK?

You: *weeps silently*

[fade to black]

The key to a successful human existence is that we have to believe we have choices. Free will. Deny our children the opportunity to make meaningful choices and all that we leave them is meaningless choices.

Nikes or Sketchers?

Applebees or Red Robin?

For so much of our children’s lives, we are their God. We control when they rise, when they sleep. What they eat, what they wear. I can fix anything and my wife’s kiss can heal all injuries, at least according to all of my kids at a young age. The temptation to never stop, though, can be overpowering. The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.

We never allow free will.

The truth, the real Truth, is that freedom is horrible, because when you are truly free you are truly responsible.

We can’t blame anyone else for our miserable lives, because it’s our miserable life.

Yet at the same time, when we triumph, it’s ours. When we master ourselves, it is ours. When we are redeemed, it’s because we had the strength all along.

Happiness is autonomy. While we all want a nice soft mommy monkey to cuddle, we still all want to be able to go off into the world and screw up as we see fit. So when you see me at the playground, and I’m looking at my phone, feel free to raise an eyebrow, but don’t help my kid on the jungle gym. I’m mostly ignoring him mostly on purpose.

Deprive your children of autonomy and you deprive them of happiness.

It’s really that simple.

Shout out to my visitors from cameforthebargains.com! Who I understand are a lot like the mafia, but with sippy cups. And vodka.