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Screen time isn’t hurting kids socially, study finds
Despite being raised in a screen-lit world, today's children make and maintain friendships as well as past generations.
- The dominate cultural assumption claims screen time devastates children's social skills.
- A recent study in the American Journal of Sociology suggests today's children are as socially skilled as the preceding peers.
- Parents need to set screen limits, but research shows they should set limits for themselves, too.
Every good parent has a worrier in them. They worry whether their children are eating right, staying safe, enjoying school, building self-esteem, maintaining supportive relationships, developing good habits, and brushing their teeth well—well, good enough at least.
Lucky for today's parents, older generations have performed the trial runs and scientific studies for many of these concerns. Such research and folk knowledge can provide guidance as they have already weeded out many of the bad practices from generations farther back. There is a notable exception: screen time.
The first members of Gen Z are only now entering adulthood. Educators, pundits, and specialists—many parents themselves—worry this cohort has become socially stunted due to their increased interaction with, and reliance upon, devices for everything from education to entertainment.
But a recent study published in the American Journal of Sociology suggests this concern is overblown.
Screening the evidence
Douglas Downey, professor of sociology at Ohio State University, wanted to test the pervasive cultural concern that today's children suffer from poorer social skills. He teamed up with Benjamin Gibbs, associate professor of sociology at Brigham Young University, and they did what good sociologists do: They analyzed the best available data.
That data came from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, a program overseen by the National Center for Education Statistics. Each of the program's studies follows a generational cohort from kindergarten to at least fifth grade. It asks teachers, parents, and administrators to assess children on their cognitive, social, emotional, and physical development at home and in school. Teachers assess the students six times from the start of kindergarten to the end of fifth grade, while parents assess their children three times from the beginning of kindergarten to first grade.
Downey and Gibbs compared the data for the class of 1998-99 (19,150 students) and 2010-11 (13,400 students) because, despite both cohorts falling under the Gen Z label, each was raised in wildly different technological worlds.
The year 2010 saw the release of the iPad, the spread of 4G networks, and the launch of the social media decade. But in 1998, screen time was restricted to home-bound TVs and desktop computers—unless you count the endless hours playing Snake on your Nokia 5110.
Despite these dissimilarities, Downey and Gibbs found little variance in how teachers and parents evaluated the children's social skills.
"In virtually every comparison we made, either social skills stayed the same or actually went up modestly for the children born later," Downey said in a release. "There's very little evidence that screen exposure was problematic for the growth of social skills."
Teachers and parents rated children similarly on self-control, interpersonal skills, the ability to form friendships, and how they handled diversity—even after accounting for factors like screen time use and family makeup. Within the cohorts, social skill trajectories remained similar for heavy-use children as lighter use.
The only exception proved children who accessed online gaming or social networking sites many times a day. These children's excessive screen time did lead to a slightly lower evaluation of social skills.
"Do as I say, not as I do"
Despite concern over kids' screen time, parents can spend up to 9 hours a day on digital devices.
Yet, a predominant social assumption is that screen time makes children socially inept. Common sense views screen time as a blue-lit security blanket, a place for children to tuck themselves away from the difficulties of navigating social reality. Unable to interact face-to-face, these children grow to become adult recluses who'll probably live in a trailer lit dimly only by a lone computer monitor.
It's a view expressed by Victoria Dunckley, M.D. and author of "Reset Your Child's Brain," where she writes, "The more a child hides behind a screen, the more socially awkward he or she becomes, creating a self-perpetuating cycle."
Where does this perspective come from if teachers and parents evaluate today's children as socially competent as their pre-iPad predecessors? Downey attributes it to classic moralizing.
"The introduction of telephones, automobiles, radio all led to moral panic among adults of the time because the technology allowed children to enjoy more autonomy," he said. "Fears over screen-based technology likely represent the most recent panic in response to technological change."
There's the classic parental double-standard to consider, too. While our culture worries over children's screen time, parents spare much less thought on how their media use may degrade their relationships and social skills.
By one survey's count, parents spend a staggering nine hours per day glued to their screens. Roughly three-quarters of that time is for personal, non-work use. Of those surveyed, 78 percent believed they were "good media use role models for their kids," the very kids they worry spend too much time on their screens.
Developing a media plan
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, a healthy family media plan includes setting limits and parental engagement.
Screen time may not harm children's social development as much as we fear, but that's obviously not carte blanche for limitless digital distractions. Children's minds and bodies are still developing, and other studies have correlated excessive screen time with deleterious effects on sleep patterns, physical health, and language development.
In a policy statement, the American Academy of Pediatrics (APP) acknowledges the educational value of managed, well-designed screen time for young children. But its authors similarly acknowledge health and developmental concerns when it comes to content and excessive use.
To help parents out, the association recommends families create a media-use plan to prevent media from displacing other important activities. A good media plan should set limits, promote parent engagement, and incorporate tech-free zones but resist using screens as "emotional pacifiers."
Such media plans must be appropriate to a child's age, too. Teenagers use the internet to build relationships and explore their place in social networks, while younger children may need it more as a place of fun, educational escapism. Parents should also do their research as many programs marketed as educational are anything but.
"If used appropriately, [digital media is] wonderful," Marjorie Hogan, a pediatrician at Hennepin County Media Center in Minneapolis, told NPR. "We don't want to demonize media, because it's going to be a part of everybody's lives increasingly, and we have to teach children how to make good choices around it, how to limit it, and how to make sure it's not going to take the place of all the other good stuff out there."
Downey and Gibbs's study doesn't suggest parents don't need to worry about balancing screen time with face-to-face interactions. It does, however, suggest that parents are doing a better job than they may think and can worry less—though, of course, they probably won't.
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Richard Feynman once asked a silly question. Two MIT students just answered it.
Here's a fun experiment to try. Go to your pantry and see if you have a box of spaghetti. If you do, take out a noodle. Grab both ends of it and bend it until it breaks in half. How many pieces did it break into? If you got two large pieces and at least one small piece you're not alone.
But science loves a good challenge<p>The mystery remained unsolved until 2005, when French scientists <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~audoly/" target="_blank">Basile Audoly</a> and <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~neukirch/" target="_blank">Sebastien Neukirch </a>won an <a href="https://www.improbable.com/ig/" target="_blank">Ig Nobel Prize</a>, an award given to scientists for real work which is of a less serious nature than the discoveries that win Nobel prizes, for finally determining why this happens. <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/spaghetti/audoly_neukirch_fragmentation.pdf" target="_blank">Their paper describing the effect is wonderfully funny to read</a>, as it takes such a banal issue so seriously. </p><p>They demonstrated that when a rod is bent past a certain point, such as when spaghetti is snapped in half by bending it at the ends, a "snapback effect" is created. This causes energy to reverberate from the initial break to other parts of the rod, often leading to a second break elsewhere.</p><p>While this settled the issue of <em>why </em>spaghetti noodles break into three or more pieces, it didn't establish if they always had to break this way. The question of if the snapback could be regulated remained unsettled.</p>
Physicists, being themselves, immediately wanted to try and break pasta into two pieces using this info<p><a href="https://roheiss.wordpress.com/fun/" target="_blank">Ronald Heisser</a> and <a href="https://math.mit.edu/directory/profile.php?pid=1787" target="_blank">Vishal Patil</a>, two graduate students currently at Cornell and MIT respectively, read about Feynman's night of noodle snapping in class and were inspired to try and find what could be done to make sure the pasta always broke in two.</p><p><a href="http://news.mit.edu/2018/mit-mathematicians-solve-age-old-spaghetti-mystery-0813" target="_blank">By placing the noodles in a special machine</a> built for the task and recording the bending with a high-powered camera, the young scientists were able to observe in extreme detail exactly what each change in their snapping method did to the pasta. After breaking more than 500 noodles, they found the solution.</p>
The apparatus the MIT researchers built specifically for the task of snapping hundreds of spaghetti sticks.
(Courtesy of the researchers)
What possible application could this have?<p>The snapback effect is not limited to uncooked pasta noodles and can be applied to rods of all sorts. The discovery of how to cleanly break them in two could be applied to future engineering projects.</p><p>Likewise, knowing how things fragment and fail is always handy to know when you're trying to build things. Carbon Nanotubes, <a href="https://bigthink.com/ideafeed/carbon-nanotube-space-elevator" target="_self">super strong cylinders often hailed as the building material of the future</a>, are also rods which can be better understood thanks to this odd experiment.</p><p>Sometimes big discoveries can be inspired by silly questions. If it hadn't been for Richard Feynman bending noodles seventy years ago, we wouldn't know what we know now about how energy is dispersed through rods and how to control their fracturing. While not all silly questions will lead to such a significant discovery, they can all help us learn.</p>
A study looks at the performance benefits delivered by asthma drugs when they're taken by athletes who don't have asthma.
- One on hand, the most common health condition among Olympic athletes is asthma. On the other, asthmatic athletes regularly outperform their non-asthmatic counterparts.
- A new study assesses the performance-enhancement effects of asthma medication for non-asthmatics.
- The analysis looks at the effects of both allowed and banned asthma medications.
WADA uncertainty<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUzNzU0OS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMDc4NjUwN30.fFTvRR0yJDLtFhaYiixh5Fa7NK1t1T4CzUM0Yh6KYiA/img.jpg?width=980" id="01b1b" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2fd91a47d91e4d5083449b258a2fd63f" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="urine sample for drug test" />
Image source: joel bubble ben/Shutterstock<p>When inhaled β-agonists first came out just before the 1972 Olympics, they were immediately banned altogether by the WADA as possible doping substances. Over the years, the WADA has reexamined their use and refined the organization's stance, evidence of the thorniness of finding an equitable position regarding their use. As of January 2020, only three β-agonists are allowed — salbutamol, formoterol, and salmeterol —and only in inhaled form. Oral consumption appears to have a greater effect on performance.</p>
The study<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUzNzU0Ny9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTIzMDQyMX0.Gk4v-7PCA7NohvJjw12L15p7SumPCY0tLdsSlMrLlGs/img.jpg?width=980" id="d3141" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ebe7b30a315aeffcb4fe739095cf0767" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="runner at starting position on track" />
Image source: MinDof/Shutterstock<p>Of primary interest to the authors of the study is confirming and measuring the performance improvement to be gained from β-agonists when they're ingested by athletes who don't have asthma.</p><p>The researchers performed a meta-analysis of 34 existing studies documenting 44 randomized trials reporting on 472 participants. The pool of individuals included was broad, encompassing both untrained and elite athletes. In addition, lab tests, as opposed to actual competitions, tracked performance. The authors of the study therefore recommend taking its conclusions with just a grain of salt.</p><p>The effects of both WADA-banned and approved β-agonists were assessed.</p>
Approved β-agonists and non-asthmatic athletes<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUzNzU1MC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMzkxODk0M30.3RssFwk_tWkHRkEl_tIee02rdq2tLuAePifnngqcIr8/img.jpg?width=980" id="39a99" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="b1fe4a580c6d4f8a0fd021d7d6570e2a" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="vaulter clearing pole" />
Image source: Andrey Yurlov/Shutterstock<p>What the meta-analysis showed is that the currently approved β-agonists didn't significantly improve athletic performance among those without asthma — what very slight benefit they <em>may</em> produce is just enough to prompt the study's authors to write that "it is still uncertain whether approved doses improve anaerobic performance." They note that the tiny effect did increase slightly over multiple weeks of β-agonist intake.</p>
Banned β-agonist and non-asthmatic athletes<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUzNzU1Mi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNjI3ODU5Mn0.vyoxSE5EYjPGc2ZEbBN8d5F79nSEIiC6TUzTt0ycVqc/img.jpg?width=980" id="de095" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="02fdd42dfda8e3665a7b547bb88007ef" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="swimmer mid stroke" />
Image source: Nejron Photo/Shutterstock<p>The study found that for athletes without asthma, however, the use of currently banned β-agonists did indeed result in enhanced performance. The authors write, "Our meta-analysis shows that β2-agonists improve anaerobic performance by 5%, an improvement that would change the outcome of most athletic competitions."</p><p>That 5 percent is an average: 70-meter sprint performance was improved by 3 percent, while strength performance, MVC (maximal voluntary contraction), was improved by 6 percent.</p><p>The analysis also revealed that different results were produced by different methods of ingestion. The percentages cited above were seen when a β-agonist was ingested orally. The effect was less pronounced when the banned substances were inhaled.</p><p>Given the difference between the results for allowed and banned β-agonists, the study's conclusions suggest that the WADA has it about right, at least in terms of selection of allowable β-agonists, as well as the allowable dosage method.</p>
Takeaway<p>The study, say its authors, "should be of interest to WADA and anyone who is interested in equal opportunities in competitive sports." Its results clearly support vigilance, with the report concluding: "The use of β2-agonists in athletes should be regulated and limited to those with an asthma diagnosis documented with objective tests."</p>
Certain water beetles can escape from frogs after being consumed.
- A Japanese scientist shows that some beetles can wiggle out of frog's butts after being eaten whole.
- The research suggests the beetle can get out in as little as 7 minutes.
- Most of the beetles swallowed in the experiment survived with no complications after being excreted.