Monthly Archives: October 2011

Mean Parents


Yesterday I realized that I walk around on a daily basis carrying a giant Halloween Pumpkin full of delicious candy.  I bring it into the bedroom with me when I sleep.  It’s the first thing I check when I wake up and usually the last thing I see before I go to sleep.  Sometimes I put it in my purse or pocket, but I reach in to check on it frequently.  Luckily, it even makes a fun noise sometimes to remind me to check it or to tell me that something has happened to my candy.  Sometimes when I’m in the car with kids, I let them reach into the pumpkin and get some candy.  Sometimes before dinner we reach in together to get some candy.  When I go somewhere pretty I pull the pumpkin from my purse and shake it around to capture the images that I see, waving it in front of the little kids faces, reminding them of all the candy and excitement that is inside. But sometimes when the kids ask to have some candy, I say “no, not now” and tears and screaming follows.  Sorry guys, this is my pumpkin, I decide when you get to have candy but I get to snack all the time.  It’s just the way it is.

It sounds like a crazy analogy, but in a lot of ways, carrying around a smartphone is like carrying around a pumpkin full of candy, to both the parent and the child. The pumpkin itself isn’t too exciting, it’s just the container although it is pretty and appealing (the smartphone) but whats inside, all of the delicious mini Snickers, M&M packages, and Reese’s Peanut Butter cups (Angry Birds, There’s a Monster at the End of This Book app, and DoodleBuddy) are exciting, fun, and addicting!  The funny thing about the pumpkin/smartphone analogy is that it is incredibly accurate.  There are times when kids (or adults) reach into the pumpkin excited to get  piece of chocolate but sadly they pull out MilkDuds or black licorice, yuck.  The same thing happens on a smartphone with the millions of apps that parents have for children to play.  Sometimes you reach in and get something great like an app from Duck Duck Moose and other days you get a total dud (I won’t name names here).

What’s funny is that parents understand that it would be totally absurd and cruel to carry around a candy filled pumpkin which they are allowed to repeatedly reach into and get something good, but only occasionally allow their children to reach in and take candy.  But parents don’t realize that they really are constantly pulling out a really fun and exciting toy in front of their kids throughout the day and frequently telling their kids they can’t play with it.  It’s a little bit mean when you think about it.

So what is the solution?  Throw out the pumpkin filled with candy? (There is no way any parent will toss their precious smartphone!)  Hide it on the top shelf and allow the children to take one piece a day?… maybe that is the solution.  Children do understand limits and they like the consistency of knowing that they will get their one piece of candy each day, maybe after dinner or after school, whenever you decide.  Maybe that is a beginning solution to smartphones.  Setting up routine times, like you do with reading before bed, where your children can play with the device for a certain period of time.  This allows children to understand the limits of the device and also to understand that they will get a turn to use it too.   But just like hiding the pumpkin away so the children aren’t constantly tempted to want to eat the candy, parents need to make more of an effort to take time away from their smartphones too and to recognize that it is a HUGE temptation to both the parents and children when it is constantly coming in and out of your pocket and sitting on the kitchen table during dinner.

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AAP Media Recommendation

On Monday Oct 17th, 2011 the American Academy of Pediatrics came out with their most recent policy statement featuring recommendations regarding media use and children under age 2.  Click here for a video from the statement release and click here for a copy of the actual Policy Statement published in Pediatrics on Oct 18, 2011.

Before I go too far, what is the American Academy of Pediatrics?  According to their website, the American Academy of Pediatrics is “an organization of 60,000 pediatricians committed to the attainment of optimal physical, mental, and social health and well-being for all infants, children, adolescents, and young adults.”  The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP for short) comes out with many recommendations related to child health and development in a variety of areas including: Sudden Infant Death SyndromeADHD, and of course Media (all links are to their press releases regarding their recommendations).

In 1999, the American Academy of Pediatrics came out with their first recommendation regarding children’s media use (focusing appropriately for that time, on television and videos).  For those who need a quick recap of what the world was like in 1999 when this statement came out here you go. Who Wants To Be a MillionaireFriends, and ER ranked in the top 3 most watched television shows (see Nielsen Ratings and The Classic TV Show Database). As for children’s television shows: Teletubbies first aired in 1997 and The  Baby Einstein Company was founded in 1996 by a stay-at-home mom and former school teacher.   In 1998, Nickelodeon first aired SpongBob SquarepantsBlues Clues first aired  in 1996, and Dora the Explorer became a regular series on NickJr in 2000.  (Just for as a reference point Sesame Street began in 1969).

This 1999 Media Education statement provided pediatricians with 9 recommendations including recommendations for what pediatricians should recommend for parents. Among the recommendations, pediatricians were urged to “become educated about public health risks of media exposure” and to “urge parents to avoid television viewing for children under the age of 2 years” (AAP 1999, page 342).  A dozen years later, the AAP has released a statement focusing on recommendations specifically for children under age 2.

The release of this statement has caught the attention of quite a few large media outlets, many academics, and a considerable number of parents.  In reaction to the press and parent comments I have seen, I want to address a few key points from this new Policy Statement.

First, I want to comment on what these policy statements are.  The AAP makes these recommendations primarily for pediatricians (and of course parents too).  These statements attempt to recap all of the scientific studies related to the topic.  Note, these statements are NOT the findings from one study conducted by the AAP, these statements are compiled based on a search of related research conducted by a range of researchers.  I keep seeing parents comment about the “AAP’s study”, this document is NOT a study, it’s a policy statement based on some research.

Second, while many research studies are included in this document, many of the studies referenced are correlational, not experimentally controlled studies which would be necessary to determine causation (See previous post Science: Cause and Correlation).  When research finds a positive correlation between two things that means they just change in the same way. For example, height and weight are often correlated: the taller you the more you weigh and often times the more you weigh the taller you are. Does that mean that if I am currently 5’3” and want to 5’8″ that I should start gaining weight?  Nope- that would only work if there was a CAUSAL direction between weight and height.  Get it?  This is an IMPORTANT distinction to understand when reading the research that was used to back up this AAP recommendation.  There may be fundamental differences between children who watch a lot of television compared to children who don’t and those differences may actually be the forces that are driving the findings like language delays, etc.  Importantly, one study that the AAP statement references by Linebarger and Walker (2005) explicitly states that lower language scores were RELATED to viewing certain programs at young ages, meaning that it could be that kids who had lower language scores were more attracted to or interested in these types of programs.

Third, the world infants and toddlers live in today is very different from the pre-DVR, pre-Ipad, and pre-iphone days infants and toddlers were born into 12 years ago (when the 1999 statement was released).  It’s shocking that the AAP failed to recognize or discuss the media of today when the number of infants and toddlers using newer media technology like iPads continues to grow.  Recent research by PlayScience reports almost 80% of children age 2-5 have access to smartphones and 19% to tablet computers.  The entire policy statement focuses on the same media from 1999: television and videos and fails to discuss the realities of the media children are using today which are increasingly interactive and increasingly present in their daily lives.

Finally, the news needs to be careful with how they report this and the potential fear factor they are causing in parents.  Media is a part of almost all Americans lives.  Televisions and screens are everywhere from restaurants to gas stations, from taxis to new cars, and in classrooms and homes.  We live in a screen-filled world. Absolutely, parents should be careful of EVERYTHING their children are exposed to including but not limited to: media, music, unhealthy foods, unsafe playgrounds, germs and diseases… the list goes on.  Media is a part of that and parents should be concerned to some extent and they should be aware of the research that has been conducted, but unfortunately, this policy statement and the media’s reaction and reporting of it are failing to give parents complete, accurate information that allows them to make the best decisions for their children.

Example of a toddler's art created on an iPad

My last comment is probably the most important.  Clearly, parent interaction and real-world experiences are key to healthy child development. No one is advocating that children should only learn from screens or interactive digital devices.  But most of research that has been done today has been conducted on a small group of children and with very little regard to the context in which children are watching/using screens.  We don’t know much about infants use of newer interactive media like tablets or touchscreens.  We do not know the influence of media for all types of children.  I could imagine that for a single mom working two jobs the benefit of having her child sit in front of Sesame Street or play an educational ipad game for 20 minutes while she calms down after an emotionally exhausting day at work could have benefits well beyond the potential consequences discussed in this AAP policy statement.  I could also imagine that technology could be used to enhance learning by providing pictorial examples of things children don’t have access to (like images or videos of Lions in the wild), etc.

At the end of the day parents need to make smart decisions for their families based on the information that is available to them.  Knowing the potential consequence of media exposure is important but so is being able to understand where it can be potentially beneficial even for very young children.

References:

American Academy of Pediatrics (1999).  Committee on Public Education. Media Education.  Pediatrics, 104, 341-343.  http://aappolicy.aappublications.org/cgi/reprint/pediatrics;104/2/341.pdf

American Academy of Pediatrics (2011).  Policy Statement: Media use by Children younger than 2 years.  Council on Communications and Media.  Pediatrics, 128, 1-6.  As of October 19, 2011 available for free form this link: http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2011/10/12/peds.2011-1753.full.pdf+html

Linebarger D.L, Walker D. (2005).  Infants’ and toddlers’ television viewing and language outcomes. American Behavioral Scientist, 48(5):624 – 64. http://abs.sagepub.com/content/48/5/624.abstract

New York Times Comments by Parents regarding the AAP’s new recommendation http://community.nytimes.com/comments/www.nytimes.com/2011/10/19/health/19babies.html?sort=oldest&offset=2

PlayScience http://playsciencelab.com/LabReport/MobilePlaygrounds_LabReport.pdf

Related Resources/Blogposts

Children’s Technology Review Hey Doc, What About My Child’s iPad?

Moms With Apps Updated Policy Statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics

The Washington Post The AAP reaffirms no screen time for young children even though few parents listen

New York Time Parents Urged Again to Limit TV for Youngest

New York Times Comments to Parents Urged Again to Limit TV for Youngest

Boston Globe Trying to Gauge the Impact of Growing Up Digital

Huffington Post David Kleeman Children and Media: Pediatricians’ Monolithic Myth 

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Bullying versus Kindness

Bullying is undeniably a problem. In the news we see horrible stories of what can happen when children are continually bullied in and outside of school.  As a result, we are seeing more and more anti-bullying campaigns.  Common Sense Media has a “Stand Up to Cyberbullying Campaign” which provides information for parents of children ranging in age from 2 to 17.  Sesame Street has an anti-bullying campaign which features a video of Big Bird being bullied by members of the “Good Birds Club” and discussion suggestions for parents. Organizations like StopBullying.gov and  Pacers.org’s National Bullying Prevention Center offer information about identifying bullying behavior and  resources and tips for dealing with bullying.  These resources and programs are incredibly helpful and are necessary to decrease the recurring issues of bullying we are seeing in schools, playgrounds, and online.

But there is another side of the coin, right?  We do need bullying prevention and active resources to help parents and teachers understand and prevent bullying behavior, but isn’t it equally, if not even more important, to institute interventions that encourage children to act with kindness and respect and provide tools to enhance children’s social and emotional learning?  A recent meta-analysis (a study that examines multiple studies that are related to the same research question) of 213 school-based, universal social and emotional learning programs found that social and emotional learning programs do help!

First, what is social and emotional learning?  Social-emotional learning is best understood through examples.  Being able to make and maintain positive relationships, work out problems with peers, make responsible decisions, communicate clearly and effectively with others, coordinate and adapt your responses and reactions appropriately…. these are all examples of social-emotional development.

The review of 213 studies found that overall students who participate in some sort of Social and Emotional Learning program demonstrated better social and emotional learning skills, attitudes, and positive social behaviors as well as fewer conduct problems and lower levels of emotional problems.  By providing students with training in positive social and emotional development, we can increase positive behaviors and decrease negative ones that may be associated with bullying and other aggression actions.

It is National Anti-bullying month and I entirely support the effort to decrease bullying and bring attention to the horrible effects bullying can have.  But beyond teaching children how NOT to behave we need to provide them opportunities to practice and learn how TO behave.  Encouraging children to act with respect and kindness and helping them to understand how their behaviors can make other people feel is  key.

References:

Durlak, J. A., Weissberg, R. P., Dymnicki, A. B., Taylor, R. D., Schellinger, K. B. (2011).  The impact of enhancing students’ social and emotional learning: A meta-analysis of school-based universal interventions.  Child Development, 82, 405-432.

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