Saturday, November 29, 2014

Children and technology

Parenting rant.

Some of the junk people are writing about children and access technology are perfect examples of why activists should seek consult before interpreting scientific research. Contradictory research findings by an army of grad students studying the soft (pseudo) sciences are not a basis for the sound raising of children. Why do I say pseudo science? Because I've always enjoyed and agreed with this Feynman rant.

The "studies" linking access to technology to this malady or that malady and the articles attempting to summarize or use them as a call to action are just silly. I don't believe they are malicious, just ignorant and misguided. I refuse to even link to them here because I don't want people receiving attention for this type of behavior. We can only speculate as to how they can divine and attach to such rigid certainty about their conclusions that they are ready to scream for legislation or world wide bans on this or that random technology to x random threshold. 

Plausibility alone is not a criterion for accepting speculative tales, but enough people just run with this to make it perpetuating. Here's a classic paper on the topic of something called adaptationism in biology. To paraphrase the topic of the paper, they poke fun at biologists that identify some trait of an organism and jump to conclusions about why it makes sense from an evolutionary perspective. The problem becomes worse when considering phenomenon like citogenesis. Randall Munroe explains:

Now, that said, I certainly monitor what my young children watch (avoiding violence and media that I feel teaches the wrong lessons), but I'm excited to see him grow up with technology I didn't have. Already he amazes me every day with his aptitude for taking advantage of the tools and what he pays attention to as he tries to wrap his brain around bigger concepts. Every day we have thoughtful conversations that are really amplified by the other things he is learning. I'll be getting him his own tablet as soon as he is responsible enough. I don't know when that is yet, but probably soon. Until then I don't deny him access to devices unless there are externalities such as bed time, dinner, etc.

So where do parents go wrong with technology? I suspect, as with many things it's complacency. We are all guilty of it to some extent, whether it's because we get lazy or are focusing on something else like our careers. You'll hear terms like "the electronic babysitter". This is funny (and, honestly, sometimes true), but all too often I believe people just throw the towel in and give up. Ignoring the children's development or blaming your conflicts with them on factors out of your control are recipes for disaster. I believe that to be a good parent you can't make excuses or give up. You constantly need to deliberately detect, approach, and overcome where you might be going wrong. But first and foremost you need to let the child know you love and care for them and that you're acting in their interest. Never give up and have the humility to adjust when you might have been wrong. ...oh, and make them laugh while you mentor them. Approaching with love really means with love, not an iron fist.

That's the end of this rant. I'll come back to it in a few years and see if I feel the same way.