Durable Human (2 book series)

Yearly Archives: 2022

Household Stress Often Led to Problematic Media Use by Kids in Pandemic

boy stares at screen during screentime in pandemic

Stress in the household was a main reason why many children developed problematic media use during the height of the pandemic. Household screen rules had little effect on media usage, according to new research.  

Emily Kroshus had three children under age 6 at the time of the pandemic lockdowns. She remembers how she coped with online work meetings. “I would turn to screens.” And not to co-view and discuss content with her children. “It’s more like: ‘please, can I hypnotize you for an hour?’” 

“I’m not proud of that,” the child behavioral researcher recalls. “And I don’t think I’m alone.” 

Curiosity prompted Kroshus and her lab at Seattle Children’s Research Institute to survey other parents in the fall of 2020. A diverse group of 1,000 American families responded, each with at least one child between the age of 6 and 17.

According to the survey results published in the journal Pediatrics, one in three children displayed “problematic media use,” which Kroshus describes as “the child is unwilling or unable to stop using media.” 

About one in three households had rules around media use, such as keeping devices out of the bedroom at night and not bringing screens to meals. But did those rules prevent problematic use of phones, laptops and computers? Continue reading

A Mother Speaks about Her Toddler, Screentime, and Virtual Autism

Toddler plays alone on tablet

Robin thought she was “being Super Mom” as she made nice dinners and tidied her midwestern U.S. home, with her toddler son quietly sitting nearby watching made-for-babies TV. She didn’t know that by letting him watch so often, he was developing the newly described condition termed “Virtual Autism.”

Took a While to Realize

For weeks, Robin rationalized the changes she saw, but finally had to admit something was wrong. Her formerly happy, lively 14-month-old had stopped having eye contact, no longer said words, and began to display hand-flapping, spinning and other autistic-like symptoms.

“The big one was,” she recalls, “he had stopped answering to his name.” Continue reading

Pandemic Babies Developing More Slowly, Talking Less

Toddler stares down at smartphone

Some babies born during COVID are developing more slowly and talking less than babies born before the pandemic, new research shows. But parents can help their babies catch up. 

“I’m seeing children with global delays; with deficits in really early pre-language skills like pointing, giving, and reaching,” says Rhode Island speech-language pathologist Alyssa Loberti, M.S. CCC-SLP.

Less Parent-Baby Interaction Leads to Babies Talking Less

Due to stress, burnout, and other reasons, some parents had less than typical back-and-forth interaction with their babies during the height of COVID. As a result, the babies heard fewer words and some now have “significantly less vocalizations” than those born before the pandemic, finds Brown University’s Advanced Baby Imaging Lab.

Less Baby Brain White Matter

ABI Lab imaging reveals some babies also have comparatively less white matter, a structural element the brain needs to learn and process information.   

“It is the conversational turns that drive brain development,” ABI Lab chief investigator Sean Deoni, told The 74.  

Developmental Deficits Linked to Screentime

Speech-language pathologist Loberti also sees a link between her young clients’ developmental deficits and how much time they have spent watching screens.  

A new JAMA Pediatrics study of Chinese moms and babies conducted during the pandemic lockdown shows that “excessive screen exposure in early years is associated with poorer cognitive and social-emotional development, especially working memory capacities.” The babies studied who had little to no screen exposure have few learning and attention issues.  

Children’s Apps Shown to be Manipulative

Meanwhile, another study in JAMA Pediatrics finds that many apps are made to manipulate and confuse little kids. The apps use design techniques that keep little ones engaged in games, make appeals to spend money on extras, and force extended viewing of ads.

For instance, 1 in 5 of the popular apps that were analyzed use pressure tactics, such as when the narrator of ABC Animals says, “You can play with these cute animals for a tiny fee! Ask your parents!”

An ad in the app Mr. Bullet won’t disappear until the child swipes the screen and, as the study states, “makes Santa shoot people”.

Caregiver Interaction Boosts Brain Development Not Just in COVID Babies

Along with dire findings, JAMA Pediatrics gives parents keys to improvement. Providing “cognitively stimulating activities” such as playing with non-electronic real-life objects, reading, and back-and-forth interaction with caring people leads to a child’s “optimal general ability development.”

Indeed, the non-profit LENA (Language ENvironment Analysis) followed a group of 9- to 14-year-olds  and found that “adult-child conversations influence a child’s IQ, verbal comprehension and vocabulary scores 10 years later.”

The LENA study concludes: “These data support the hypothesis that early talk and interaction, particularly during the relatively narrow developmental window of 18 to 24 months of age, can be used to predict school-age language and cognitive outcomes.” 

Speech-language pathologist Loberti sees major improvements when parents supplement what their little ones may have lacked during in the pandemic. By doing so, she says, “The changes have been phenomenal.” 

About the author:

Jenifer Joy Madden is a certified digital wellness educator, health journalist, and mother of three. She founded DurableHuman.com in 2009 and has written self-help books including How To Be a Durable Human: Revive and Thrive in the Digital Age Through the Power of Self-Design.

A Plan for Humane Technology

woman holding pen with hands on top of notebook sits next to open laptop

With a new frame of mind, designers can create humane technology. Former Google tech ethicist Tristan Harris wants to teach them how.  

“This talk is about the wisdom we need to steer technology, and our future.” The words from his new message shone brightly from the screen at the 2022 mindfulness in technology conference, Wisdom 2.0.

Harris was back at the place where in 2015, he pulled back the curtain on how tech companies used “persuasive design.” They were in “a race to the bottom of our brainstems to seduce our instincts.”

Their products did not support human well-being, he claimed. “It’s like being on a diet, but you are only handed menus with burgers and fries.” 

Slide from Tristan Harris 2015 Wisdom 2.0 presentation
From the Tristan Harris presentation at Wisdom 2.0 2015

Design as Determinant

In How to Be a Durable Human: Revive and Thrive in the Digital Age Through the Power of Self-Design, tech usability expert Jared Spool defines Design as “the rendering of intent.”

Harris believes tech companies’ intentions were way off when they started Google, Facebook, and other platforms. He should know, having trained in the Stanford University Persuasive Technology Lab.

Since tech products could be accessed for free, users’ personal data were fair game, which companies made unprecedented sums from selling and re-selling. Individuals were hyper-targeted under the guise of “giving users what they want.”

Silicon Valley founders saw tech as a neutral vessel. That users became trapped in polarized filter bubbles was not the platforms’ problem.

The result today: the loudest and meanest social media opinions seem to be the majority. As Harris observes, “we start to believe the extreme voices and stereotypes represent the world.”

Slide from Tristan Harris talk at Wisdom 2.0 says "We start to believe the extreme voices & stereotypes represent the world."

Besides political turmoil, he blames early Silicon Valley attitudes for creating problems ranging from information overload and addiction, to synthetic charlatans including bots and DeepFakes. 

Over the years, it became standard practice to use psychological sleight of hand to keep users engaged.

Children have been especially affected. Since the dawn of social media, youth mental health has significantly eroded.

Even the brain development of babies has been caught in technology’s web.

Toddler using tablet

Toward Humane Technology

After much thought and consultation, Harris has come up with a plan: for tech designers to Think Differently.  Continue reading


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