Tuesday, March 11th, 2014
Parents who use smartphones and other devices while also trying to interact with their children report more cranky and frustrated moods than parents who avoid texting and other technology-driven activities in front of their kids, according to a new study by researchers at Boston Medical Center. More from Time.com:
Dr. Jenny Radesky, a fellow in developmental-and-behavioral pediatrics at Boston Medical Center, specializes in counseling parents about developmental and behavioral issues with their children. So she was naturally curious about how the ubiquity of smartphones, and their distracting allure, might affect the quality of time that parents and their children spent together. Previous studies showed that TVs, even if they are only on in the background, can inhibit children’s creativity and siphon their concentrating and focusing powers.
To study the effect of smartphones, Radesky and her colleagues sent in undercover investigators to surreptitiously observe any adult-child grouping with more than one youngster as they ate at a fast-food restaurant. The observers recorded the behavior of both the adults and the children in 55 such groupings, as well as how frequently the adults used their smartphones.
The data provided an unvarnished look at how absorbed many parents were by their devices. One child reached over in an attempt to lift his mother’s face while she looked down at a tablet, but to no avail. Another mother kicked her child under the table in response to the child’s various attempts to get her attention while she looked at her phone. A father responded in curt and irritated tones to his children’s escalating efforts to tear him away from his device.
“What stood out was that in a subset of caregivers using the device almost through the entire meal, how negative their interactions could become with the kids,” she says. While the study did not code or quantify the reactions, Radesky says that there were “a lot of instances where there was very little interaction, harsh interaction or negative interaction” between the adults and the children. “That’s simply unfair to the children,” says Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson of Seattle Children’s Hospital and author of the Seattle Mama Doc blog.
In light of the data, Radesky is working with the American Academy of Pediatrics to develop some guidelines for the smart smartphone use in front of the kids — just as the academy has advice for parents on TV viewing (none for toddlers younger than 2).
Image: Mom on smartphone, via Shutterstock
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Tuesday, December 3rd, 2013
As the holiday shopping season heats up, so does the debate over GoldieBlox, the toy marketed to girls and promising to encourage them to develop “STEM,” or “science, technology, engineering, math” interests in girls. The public conversation about the toy, which some parents love but others say are neither gender neutral nor imagination-inspiring, is bringing to center stage a decades-old debate over how girls learn, play–and are marketed to. Time.com has more:
This earnest educational toy might have gone unnoticed amidst the babies and Barbies if it weren’t for a hit viral video ad campaign showing little girls getting bored with a princess show and leaping up to create a giant Rube Goldberg machine out of toys.
The ad — which earned over eight million views on YouTube before a new version was posted due to a legal dispute over music use — has reignited a simmering debate: are playthings that encourage girls to become moms and beauty queens to blame for the dearth of women in the sciences? And if that’s true, what’s the best way to create toys that encourage girls to develop engineering and science skills? Some think building toys appealing directly to girls like GoldieBlox is the answer, while others want a more gender-neutral approach. And there are those who want to blow up the current pink-and-blue aisle segregation of toys altogether.
Most experts agree that the pink aisle does have a negative impact on girls’ interest in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) subjects. “Wanting to be a doctor or architect or cook, that really begins when you’re young and walking around with a stethoscope or playing with an Easy Bake oven,” says Richard Gottlieb, CEO of toy industry consulting firm Global Toy Experts.
Gender identification begins around preschool, when children’s brains are most susceptible to definitions of gender according to Lise Eliot, a neuroscientist and the author of Pink Brain, Blue Brain. And when youngsters enter the aisle labeled for girls, the only STEM options they’re really offered are chemistry sets that help create makeup or building blocks to construct pet grooming shops. (By contrast, boys’ chemistry kits usually allow them to create anything from icky goo to things that blow up to food.)
By the time kids reach third grade, there’s a real divide between boys and girls when it comes to STEM-related ambitions. A 2009 poll by the American Society for Quality of children 8 to 17, 24 percent of boys said they were interested in a career engineering, but only five percent of girls said the same. And that gap continues with adults: Just 11% of engineers are women—a fact that GoldieBlox’s creators note prominently on their site—and only about a quarter of STEM degrees go to women and it’s not about aptitude. Several international studies have shown that the gender difference in math and science are a by-product of culture, not biology. But quantifying cultural influences is complicated. The United States has one of the biggest gender gaps in math and science scores, but it’s impossible to know how much of an effect changing the toy aisles would have. In parts of Asia for example, there are plenty of dolls in the stores, but there’s a much smaller math gender gap for a host of other cultural reasons, like a better gender balance of teachers in schools.
We do know however that in the U.S. the pink aisle has gotten much more pink over the years. Global Toy Experts conducted a survey of 1,700 American moms three years ago asking them to compare the toys they played with growing up to those that their daughters were playing with today. They found a 25 percent drop across the board in girls playing with toys that would be considered gender-neutral or male (like construction or science kit toys).
True, as toy stores have gotten pinker, women have made more progress in the workplace. All those cute little vacuum cleaners and mini baby bottles haven’t discouraged girls from going to college or excelling in academic fields other than science. Women make up the majority of undergrads and are entering law school in equal numbers to men. So it’s clear that gendered toys aren’t entirely to blame for the dearth of female engineers—a myriad of reasons from lack or mentors to childhood development contribute as well.
But the lack of STEM role models for young girls in popular culture is something that experts say is an issue when it comes to changing girls’ attitudes toward math and science careers in the first place.
“There’s Bob the Builder, Bill Nye the Science Guy, Jimmy Neutron—they’re all boys with IQs off the chart. That’s intimidating for all kids, but particularly for girls who suffer from this thing called math anxiety where they have really, really high standards for themselves when it comes to math,” says Debbie Sterling, creator of GoldieBlox who thought of the toy after graduating from Stanford, frustrated with how few women there were in her chemical engineering program there. “If they don’t get an A+ on something, then they think they’re just naturally not inclined or born with it.”
Sterling’s solution to this problem was to create a toy designed for the way girls think. Goldie is a female role model who neither fit the born-genius trope (Goldie makes mistakes and learns from them) nor the nerdy anti-social brunette girl with glasses—a stereotypical character found in many kids’ shows. (Think Velma from Scooby Doo or Gretchen from Recess.) Another set of Stanford grads has also gone that route. Their invention, Roominate, offers girls the experience of building a working circuited dollhouse in pastel colors.
But why make science and engineering toys girly at all? Why not just make all of them gender neutral? “I love the GolideBlox toys. I think they’re really smart,” says Elizabeth Sweet, a doctoral candidate at the University of California Davis, who has studied gender coding in toys. “But I think that by sort of highlighting and simplifying the differences between boys and girls, these things may have the unintended effect of further reinforcing the stereotypes that girls are inherently less capable and need extra stimulation.”
Image: Girl, via Shutterstock
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Monday, September 23rd, 2013
E-reader devices may help children with the learning disability dyslexia learn to read. The technology in an e-reader screen was found in a new study to make text more legible to children who otherwise would struggle to read. One reason for the finding may be that lines of text are shorter in e-readers than in books. Fox News has more on the study:
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The study’s authors said they are excited about the potential for e-readers to supplement traditional methods of therapy for dyslexic students.
“The high school students we tested…had the benefit of many years of exceptional remediation, but even so, if they have visual attention deficits they will eventually hit a plateau, and traditional approaches can no longer help,” said study author Matthew H. Schneps, director of the Laboratory for Visual Learning at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and lead author of the research, in a news release. “Our research showed that the e-readers help these students reach beyond those limits.”
Dyslexia is characterized by an inability to concentrate on letters within words, or entire lines of text on a page, and it affects 10 percent of children in the U.S.
Thursday, April 19th, 2012
Earlier this week, I promised some posts on new and exciting products I discovered at the Sandbox Summit at MIT. It turns out, the one that grabbed my attention most is actually more “exciting” than “new.” It’s the Double Fine Happy Action Theater game for the Xbox 360 game console, and it was released in February of this year.
Click here to see a video trailer for the game, which allows multiple players to transform their living rooms into balloon clouds, fiery lava fields, or bubbly seascapes. It’s not educational in any traditional sense of the word. It’s just plain fun for the whole family.
At the Sandbox Summit, Microsoft’s educational design director, Alex Games (pronounced GAH-mes), presented the trailer as an example of what can happen when learning is approached through the lens of play. The game is an example of how parents can “co-view” a piece of technology with their children, interacting on every level, and developing skills from physical fitness to quick decision-making.
According to Games, the co-viewing aspect, combined with the fact that the game takes place in a family’s living room, as opposed to in an invented, remote video game world, make it just the type of thing families should look for when choosing how to spend their leisure time…if they want to spend more than just a few minutes together as a family.
“We’ve moved toward really fast-paced, bite sized experiences, very similar to what is happening in social media,” Games said. But when it comes to learning, “there are certain things that it takes time and patience to develop.”
Image via http://marketplace.xbox.com/
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Monday, April 16th, 2012
Over the next few days, you’ll notice some different types of posts here at PNN. Your intrepid blogger will be attending the Sandbox Summit at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to hear what psychologists, educators, and entrepreneurs have to say about this question: What is the relationship between technology and play?
The Summit’s website describes its mission: “Play is how kids learn. Technology is an enticement. By creating a forum for conversation around play and technology, Sandbox Summit strives to ensure that the next generation of players becomes active innovators, rather than passive users, of technology.”
Stay tuned for what I anticipate will be fascinating insights, research, and ideas from the experts at the Summit, as well as some tidbits and sneak peaks of the newest, coolest techno toys around.
Ready to play? I sure am!
Image: Play button, via Shutterstock.
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