Better Science Instead of Moral Panics, Please

Author posts hectoring piece on how your precious children should never be near a single screen in operation until they are 40, because while yeah, thousands of children are going hungry every day, the iPad is our country’s greatest parenting challenge. 

Trouble is, a lot of the science relied upon in that piece is, to use a technical term, total crap: 

5. False premises lead inevitably to false conclusions. Rowan says, “technology use restricts movement, which can result in delayed development.” The studies that have shown that restricted movement leads to developmental delays are animal experiments employing conditions of extremely restricted movement (i.e., the inability to move any of their limbs). Not only don’t those extremes apply to mobile device use, some platforms (Kinect, Wii) actually promote physical movement (Staiano, A. E., Abraham, A. A., & Calvert, S. L. (2012); Staiano, A. E., & Calvert, S. L. (2011); Graves, L., Stratton, G., Ridgers, N., & Cable, N. (2007); Graf,D., Pratt, L.V., Hester, C.N., Short, K.R. (2009)).


10. Marketing is not research. Rowan’s 10th point, that today’s childrearing and education are unsustainable, is unsupported except by promotion for videos on the author’s website.

“Children are our future, but there is no future for children who overuse technology.” I’m not sure whether to first address the hyperbole (actually, in today’s society, the future is more dim for children who are kept ignorant to responsible and productive technology use) or the tautology (overuse of anything is a bad idea — we should be concerned about any child whose life is circumscribed by one thing).

We have a small apartment. I use my laptop and phone to do work around Kick all the time, because I have a powerful need to keep a roof over her head. My father plays music for her from the iPad he brings with him each week when he visits. And if I hadn’t been able to watch some Netflix during my maternity leave I don’t think any of us would be alive right now.

I’m not defending parking your kids in front of the TV 24-7 or having your child’s only toy be an iPod, but can we please, please argue for moderation and not for keep all technology away from children and read to them from comic books like we had growing up because nobody feared those OH SHIT:

Dr. Wertham, whose background as a civil rights activist has been forgotten, had no patience for super-heroes. He accused Batman and Robin of being light in their leotards, and called Superman a fascist. Wonder Woman, meanwhile, posed a sexually charged threat to morality. (In her early incarnations, Wonder Woman was indeed inappropriate for kids, but Superman was about as fascist as Betty Boop. As for the Caped Crusader and sidekick, one of the men behind Batman joked to Hajdu that their private lives were “their own business.”)

As Hajdu notes, Wertham and his cronies often based their much-touted “research” on nothing more than assumptions and a lazy understanding of causes and effects. Yes, some delinquent kids enjoyed comic books. So did almost all other kids. Where was the proof of a link?

Unless we look at kids’ media consumption in conjunction with their other life circumstances or real-life behavior, freaking out over your toddler knowing how to unlock a phone is pointless. I’m more worried about Kick unlocking the ferret cage.


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