Monday, February 01, 2016

Why the iPad is a far bigger threat to our children than anyone realises (?)

The writer below claims to be a psychologist but she is clearly not a research psychologist.  She offers no objective evidence for her assertions.  It's all just opinion.  I am a research psychologist and my opnion is the opposite. I think that social media greatly enrich our environment -- for young and old.

The nearest the silly woman gets to evidence is: "It's little wonder, then, that the boom in iPads and smartphones has coincided with further deterioration in the physical and mental health of children of all ages"

For a start she seems unaware of the most basic dictum in statistics:  Correlation is not causation.  And who says that "the physical and mental health of children of all ages" has deteriorated?  That is at the least highly contentious and probably as well founded as her concludsions.

My son was a computer hog from age 2 and I put no restrictions on that.  He is now a polite and friendly highly regarded IT professional with a circle of close friends -- and his only addiction is to flavoured milk.  So immersion in computers didn't hurt him, did it?

Considering all the foul and dangerous things that many young people ingest these days, my son's addiction must seem an impossible dream

When the little girl pointed at the sweets at the checkout, her mother said: 'No, they're bad for your teeth.' So her daughter, who was no more than two, did what small children often do at such times. She threw a tantrum.

What happened next horrified me. The embarrassed mother found her iPad in her bag and thrust it into her daughter's hands. Peace was restored immediately.

This incident, which happened three years ago, was the first time I saw a tablet computer used as a pacifier. It certainly wasn't the last. Since then, I've seen many tiny children barely able to toddle yet expertly swiping an iPad - not to mention countless teenagers, smartphone in hand, lost to the real world as they tap out texts.

It's ten years since the publication of my book, Toxic Childhood, which warned of the dangers of too much screen-time on young people's physical and mental health.

My fears have been realised. Though I was one of the first to foresee how insidiously technology would penetrate youngsters' lives, even I've been stunned at how quickly even the tiniest have become slaves to screens - and how utterly older ones are defined by their virtual personas.

Indeed, when my book came out, Facebook had just hit our shores and we were more concerned with violent video games and children watching too much TV. Seems like ancient history, doesn't it?

Today, on average, children spend five to six hours a day staring at screens. And they're often on two or more screens at once - for example, watching TV while playing on an iPad.

Because technology moves so fast, and children have embraced it so quickly, it's been difficult for parents to control it. And when it comes to spending a childhood in front of a screen, this generation are like lab rats. The long-term impact is not known.

Even before iPads hit the market in 2010, experts were warning that 80 per cent of children arrived at school with poor co-ordination, due to a sedentary lifestyle.

Along with colleagues in the field of child development, I'd seen a rise in prescriptions for Ritalin, a drug for attention deficit and hyperactivity - a four-fold increase in less than a decade.

And we'd collected a mass of research showing links between excessive screen-time and obesity, sleep disorders, aggression, poor social skills, depression and academic under-achievement.

It's little wonder, then, that the boom in iPads and smartphones has coincided with further deterioration in the physical and mental health of children of all ages.

Sadly, we're seeing the rise of the 'techno-tot' for whom iPads have become the modern-day equivalent of a comfort blanket.

Recent research found 10 per cent of children under four are put to bed with a tablet computer to play with as they fall asleep.

One study of families owning them found a third of children under three had their own tablets. Baby shops even sell 'apptivity seats' into which a tablet can be slotted to keep toddlers entertained.

Because the earlier children are hooked on screens, the more difficult it is to wean them off.

This is not the only worry. It's not just what children get up to onscreen that affects their overall development. It's what screens displace - all the activities they're not doing in the real world.

Today's children have far fewer opportunities for what I call 'real play'. They are no longer learning through first-hand experiences how to be human and are much less likely to play or socialise outdoors or with others.

One of the most depressing examples of a totally screen-based childhood involved a ten-year-old in London. The overweight, pasty-faced little lad told me: 'I sit in my room and I watch my telly and play on my computer . . . and if I get hungry I text down to my mum and she brings me up a pizza.'

The change in children's play has happened in little more than a couple of decades. While many parents feel uneasy about all that screen-time, they haven't tackled it as they've been so busy keeping up with changes in their own lives.

And anyway, it's happening to children everywhere - so surely it can't be bad for them?

But real play is a biological necessity. One psychologist told me it was 'as vital for healthy development as food or sleep'.

If the neural pathways that control social and imaginative responses aren't developed in early childhood, it's difficult to revive them later. A whole generation could grow up without the mental ability to create their own fun, devise their own games and enjoy real friendships - all because of endless screen-time.

It's getting out and about - running, climbing, making dens and so on - that allows little children to gain physical skills. Playing 'let's pretend' is a creative process requiring lots of personal input.

Real play develops initiative, problem-solving skills and many other positive traits, such as a can-do attitude, perseverance and emotional resilience. It's vital for social skills, too.

By playing together, youngsters learn to get along with other people. They discover how others' minds work, developing empathy.

And, as real play is driven by an innate desire to understand how the world works, it provides the foundation for academic learning.

Real play is evolution's way of helping children develop minds of their own - curious, problem- solving, adaptable, human minds.

The American Academy of Paediatrics recommends no screen-time for children under two and a maximum two hours a day there-after. This is not just due to a proven link between screen-time and attention disorders, but because it eliminates other activities essential for building healthy bodies and brains.

Babies are born with an intense desire to learn about their world, so they're highly motivated to interact with people and objects around them - the beginning of real play.

That's why they love it when we play silly games with them, such as peekaboo, or they manage to grasp some household object. This is what helps them develop physical co-ordination and social skills.

But when little ones can get instant rewards from high-tech devices, they don't need to bother with real play.

Images on a screen can be just as fascinating as the real world, and even a very small child can learn to control the images with a clumsy swish of podgy fingers.

Each time babies or toddlers make something happen on screen, they get the same sort of pleasure hit as they would from a cuddle or a splash in the bath.

When they can get instant rewards by swiping a screen, why bother with play that demands physical, social and cognitive effort?

Neuroscientist Susan Greenfield says: 'We cannot park our children in front of screens and expect them to develop a long attention span.'

She also worries about the effects of technology on literacy. 'Learning to read helps children learn to put ideas into logical order,' she says. 'On the other hand, staring at a screen puts their brains into suspended animation.'

Dr Aric Sigman, who has amassed a huge database of research linking children's screen-time to ADHD, autism and emotional and behavioural disorders, also points to the conflict between screen-based activity and reading.

'Unlike screen images, words don't move, make noises, sing or dance. Ultimately, screen images render the printed word simply boring at a crucial phase when the child's mind is developing,' he says.

Yet another problem with too much screen-gazing is that it doesn't develop resilience.

Real play gives children opportunities to learn how to cope with challenges for themselves. Finding how to learn from their mistakes, picking themselves up when they take a tumble and sorting out squabbles with playmates all help develop the self-confidence that makes children more emotionally resilient.

This is vital for mental health, especially in our high-pressure world. So I wasn't surprised when this month Childline warned Britain is producing deeply unhappy youngsters - sad, lonely, with low self-esteem and an increasing predilection to self-harm.

The charity painted a bleak portrait of our children's emotional state, blaming their unhappiness on social networking and cyber-bullying.

It's understandable parents feel unable to tackle their children's social media use. After all, it has spread like a virus. In 2012, just six years after Facebook arrived here, it was the favourite website of ten-year-old girls.

That year I interviewed three 15-year-old girls in Yorkshire who have been on Facebook since the age of ten. They said they didn't enjoy it as much as 'when we were young' because 'running our own PR campaigns' - as they wittily described the constant need to make their lives sound glamorous and exciting - was exhausting and they often felt miserable when others seemed to be having more fun.

But they couldn't give up the social media site as it would put them out of the social loop. 'There's lots of cyber-bullying,' one said. 'So you've got to try to be like everyone else.'

But we can't go on letting our children 'be like everyone else' when it's damaging them. If the next generation is to grow up bright, balanced and healthy enough to use technology wisely, parents need to take action.

And that means limiting screen-time, spending time together as a family and making sure get children out to play.

Some say children need to use technology because that's the way the world is going. But there's no need to give little children high-tech devices.

Modern technology develops at a phenomenal rate - any IT skills that children learn before the age of seven will be long past their sell-by date by the time they reach their teens.

But self-confidence, emotional resilience, creative thinking, social skills and the capacity for focused thought will stand them in good stead whatever the future brings.


Sam Smith and the myth of everyday racism

Sam Smith has stirred the ire of the Twitterati for tweeting his shock at his friend being racially abused in London. The multi-award-winning singer took to social media claiming to be ‘absolutely speechless and hurt’ following an incident which, judging by the timings of the tweets, happened in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

Within 15 minutes, the self-righteous Twitch-hunters, who don’t object to keeping unsociable hours lest they miss an opportunity to show how stultifyingly PC they are, leapt into action. Rather than expressing sympathy for Smith, or indeed his friend, the incensed tweeters asked him if he ‘watched the news’, because, they said, racial abuse ‘happens every day’.

They went on to accuse Smith of ‘living under a rock’, asking him if he had ‘just moved to London or something?’, all, it seems, to advertise how aware they were of the capital’s epidemic of racial abuse. Obviously, this pathetic mob was talking total nonsense.

Having lived in London for a few months now, I can honestly say that I have never witnessed anybody being racially abused. Even during my time growing up in far-less-cosmopolitan Staffordshire, there was no occasion where I saw or heard someone being actively abused for their race.

Britain is one of the most tolerant countries in the world, and London perhaps its most tolerant part. The idea that a non-white person wandering the streets of the capital is likely to be racially abused is a complete fallacy.

Bar a few berks on buses – who tend to get videoed and exposed rather quickly, by the way – people in London, and indeed in Britain as a whole, do not go out of their way to abuse ethnic minorities. If you do hear about such abuse taking place, you should enquire about the wellbeing of the person being abused. Don’t use it as a means of illustrating what a ‘racist’ country you live in, and thus displaying how ‘aware’ you are of the problem.

I would go on to deal with the accusation that Smith was ‘whitesplaining’ racism. But, frankly, that claim is so unfathomably fatuous those levelling it are already beyond help. Anyway, I’ve only ‘just moved to London’, so my opinion won’t be considered valid by the smug gits anyway.


In dystopian Britain, the police now hunt down ‘pre-rapists’

Sexual Risk Orders are ripping apart liberty and due process

To see what tyranny looks like, look no further than the case of the Yorkshire man who must give the cops 24 hours’ notice before he has sex with anyone. The man, who can’t be named for legal reasons, was found not guilty of rape in a trial last year. And yet a magistrate’s court decided he was nonetheless dodgy, and served him with a Sexual Risk Order decreeing that he must provide the police with the name, address and date of birth of anyone he plans to bed, ‘at least 24 hours prior to any sexual activity taking place’. So despite not being found guilty of a crime, he will still be treated as a criminal. This should alarm anyone who cares about due process, liberty and not allowing the state to stick its snout into the sexual relations of consenting adults.

Most of the coverage of this ‘sex risk’ ruling, which was revealed at the end of last week, has treated it as weird or funny. The idea of some poor bloke having to dampen his passions when he’s on the cusp of copping off in a bar, and basically seek the permission of the police before he gets his leg over, has got people chortling and tweeting. But there’s little funny about this case. In fact it speaks to the creeping warping of the values of both justice and liberty. It smashes together the sex-policing instinct of Big Brother in 1984 with the idea of ‘precrime’ from Philip K Dick’s Minority Report, making real the dystopian dread of a society that believes it can interfere in people’s most intimate relationships and treat individuals as criminals-in-the-making.

The Sexual Risk Order against the man is an interim one. In May, there will be another hearing to decide whether it should become a full Sexual Risk Order, which can last for anything between two years and forever. If an individual breaks an order, he or she can be imprisoned for up to five years. So if this guy – who is not a criminal, remember – has sex with someone without first informing the police, he could be jailed. That is, he could be jailed for having sex. It should concern anyone who believes in even basic autonomy, in the sovereignty of the individual over his mind and body, that the threat of jail-for-sex hangs over the head of an ostensibly innocent man.

Sexual Risk Orders, which were introduced in 2013, bring to life the dystopian idea of precrime. They are served in cases where there isn’t enough evidence to convict someone of an actual sex crime. As one leading lawyer says, they’re given to people whom the authorities think ‘might commit an offence’; they’re about ‘predicting crimes’. So Britain in 2016 is policing ‘precrime’; it views certain individuals as precriminals whose rights can be restricted, not on the basis of what they’ve done, but on the basis of what they might do; on the basis of the fantasies of the self-styled seers of officialdom who now police the future as well as the present.

The government says Sexual Risk Orders are given in cases where a person has ‘done an act of a sexual nature’ which has given officials ‘reasonable cause to believe that it is necessary for an order to be made’, even if the person ‘has never been convicted’. So these individuals aren’t criminals; they’ve just had sex in a way the authorities don’t like. The authorities have gone from punishing sex crimes to punishing sex, slapping orders on people for behaving in a way that was presumably a little strange, possibly perverted, but not criminal. Through these orders, our rulers have invited themselves into the realm of sex, into what happens between non-criminal, consenting adults. Even the most intimate act that two (or more) grown-ups can engage in is now not free from the prying eyes of officialdom.

The Yorkshire case, and Sexual Risk Orders more broadly, demolishes the ideal of due process. If someone can be treated as a criminal, or precriminal, despite not having been convicted of a crime, then the entire, Magna Carta-derived basis of civilised law is called into question. Last year, Britain celebrated the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, a document which insists that ‘no free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions’, unless he’s found guilty of a crime through ‘lawful judgement’. This is the foundation stone of democratic societies: that citizens are free until such a time as they have been convincingly, openly convicted of an offence. This is now reversed. A man has been deprived of rights the rest of us enjoy even though he has not been convicted of a crime. He’s effectively been categorised as a pre-rapist.

This is not a one-off. Increasingly, the British criminal justice system is used not just to punish crime but to police behaviour, and to pre-empt crime. Sexual Risk Orders bring sex under the purview of the law. Anti-Social Behaviour Orders, and their various replacements, control the irritating habits of people who have not been found guilty of an offence. Extremism Disruption Orders are designed to police and punish ‘pre-terrorism’, through controlling the ability of non-violent radicals to express their opinions. The idea of leaving people be unless they’re convicted of an offence – leaving them to have sex with whomever they want, and say whatever they want – has been ripped apart. We pay lip service to Magna Carta while destroying its spirit. A society in which a non-guilty man must provide the police with information about his every sexual conquest is not a free society. It’s the opposite; it’s a society in which no zone of life exists independently of officialdom, and in which more and more of us are viewed as precriminals, and sex is viewed as pre-rape.


The ECHR is not working

The European Court of Human Rights should not be ruling on workplace matters

Last week, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) handed down a ruling in an employment dispute. The case concerned Mr Barbulescu, formerly an engineer in charge of sales at a private company, and his country, Romania.

Barbulescu’s employer (who remains unnamed) had a very strict policy that banned the use of office facilities, including computers, for any private communications. It also required Barbulescu, as part of his work, to operate a Yahoo Messenger account to communicate with company clients.

But Barbulescu used this account to exchange some messages with his brother and fiancée. One of the addresses to which he directed messages was called ‘Andra loves you’. These communications involved personal matters, including the state of his health. His employer monitored his use of Messenger, and notified him that it was aware he was using it for personal matters. He initially denied this, but the employer produced a 45-page transcript, which debunked his claim. It then sacked him on 1 August 2007. So Barbulescu sued, alleging an invasion of privacy.

A reasonable expectation of privacy?

A factual issue in the court case was whether his employer had formally notified Barbulescu that it reserved the right to monitor his communications – ensuring compliance with its policy. The employer claimed that Barbulescu had signed a copy of its requirements, although no document bearing his signature was produced. The local courts dismissed Barbulescu’s claim.

Barbulescu then complained to the ECHR in December 2008 that his right to effective respect for private life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights had been violated. Remarkably (or not, if you know what a backlog of cases it has), the court did not notify the Romanian government until four years later, in 2012.

The main issue that the court had to decide, was whether Barbulescu had a reasonable expectation of privacy in relation to his use of the Yahoo account. It saw the fact that he was aware of the employer’s strict policy as relevant. The court contrasted this case with Halford v UK (1997), in which a senior police officer was given a phone to make personal calls, and complained successfully after her use of it was covertly monitored.

Another relevant case is Copland v UK (2007), which concerned a college employee whose employer suspected she was making excessive use of work facilities for private communications. It monitored her usage, such as the number of phone calls and emails she made, though it did not listen to them, or read their contents. The European Court of Human Rights decided that her privacy had been violated, because she was not warned about being monitored and the employer did not have a policy in place.

The court rejected Barbulescu’s complaint by a majority of six to one, noting that ‘it is not unreasonable for an employer to want to verify that the employees are completing their professional tasks during working hours’. It also commented that Barbulescu had not ‘convincingly explained why he had used the Yahoo messenger account for personal purposes’.

The dissenting judge, De Albuquerque, disagreed. He complained that this was a missed opportunity to develop case law, which he acknowledged was limited. He wanted the court to draw principles ‘for the creation, implementation and enforcement of an internet usage policy’ in employment relations. But this is not the function of the ECHR – an international tribunal tasked with the duty of deciding whether state signatories are in violation of their treaty obligations. It is not the ECHR’s job to draw up policies for workplaces across Europe.

De Albuquerque’s opinion is laden with lengthy footnotes, citing a proliferation of communiqués and pronouncements from various international bodies, ranging from the Committee of Ministers, the Council of Europe, the International Telecommunications Union and the United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression. He also claimed: ‘States have a positive obligation to promote and facilitate universal internet access, including the creation of the infrastructure necessary for internet connectivity’. This is not the case under the European Convention.

He went on to argue that employers couldn’t expect to have unfettered control over their employees’ expression on the internet. Citing the case of Copland v UK, he claimed that all use of email, telephone and computer facilities at work for private purposes was prima facie protected under Article 8. He criticised the formula used in this case (‘a reasonable expectation of privacy’) as being too vague and leaving too much open to the discretion of the employer.

He argued that employers could not impose a blanket ban on internet usage by employees. Instead, he called for:

‘A comprehensive internet-usage policy in the workplace [to] be put in place, including specific rules on the use of email, instant messaging, social networks, blogging and web surfing. Although policy may be tailor-made to the needs of each corporation as a whole… the rights and obligations of employees should be set out clearly, with transparent rules on how the internet may be used, how monitoring is conducted, how data is secured, used and destroyed, and who has access to it… Employees must be made aware of the existence of an internet usage policy in force in their workplace, as well as outside the workplace and during out-of-work hours, involving communication facilities owned by the employer, the employee or third parties. All employees should be notified personally of the said policy and consent to it explicitly.’

De Albuquerque also pointed out that Barbulescu’s employer did not have such an elaborate policy.

A striking feature of De Albuquerque’s judgement is the way in which he imports a raft of policy documents, working-party documents and opinions, as well as Council of Europe recommendations on surveillance of electronic communications, into a judicial discussion about the scope of Article 8 of the European Convention. His justification was that unless the court insisted on a very formal approach to internet and email use in the workplace, employers would abuse their position by acting ‘as a distrustful Big Brother’ and commodifying workers.

Policies on internet use, he concluded, are essential to force employers to act ‘in accordance with the principled international-law approach to internet freedom as a human right’. He goes on to speculate that the Romanian courts ‘willingly condoned the employer’s seizure upon internet abuse as an opportunistic justification for removal of an unwanted employee whom the company was unable to dismiss by lawful means’.

Do we really need more regulation?

The European Convention says nothing about internet freedom, as such. It refers to ‘freedom of expression’ in Article 10. This is very far removed from how individual employers decide what arrangements they wish to put in place for internet access, or use of electronic communications by staff. De Albuquerque’s judgement is a good illustration of quixotic judicial activism, which seeks to expand the remit of the convention in the name of freedom, while simultaneously demanding greater regulation of everyday life. But, in the real world, a proliferation of detailed policies simply gives employers more ways in which to keep tabs on their employees.

The case was decided without an oral hearing (ie, on the papers) by the Fourth Section of the ECHR consisting of seven judges: a Hungarian, a Maltese, a Slovenian, a Georgian, a Portuguese, a Lithuanian and a Romanian. It may not be a coincidence that five of out the six judges giving the majority ruling were from former Communist countries (De Albuquerque is Portugese). The sub-text would appear to be that they do not welcome this messianic, top-down approach to human rights, instead, opting for a more minimalist approach. Perhaps they are right. The last thing workers need are more diktats from the ECHR.



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the  incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of  other countries.  The only real difference, however, is how much power they have.  In America, their power is limited by democracy.  To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already  very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges.  They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did:  None.  So look to the colleges to see  what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way.  It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH,   EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS and  DISSECTING LEFTISM.   My Home Pages are here or   here or   here.  Email me (John Ray) here


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