Friday, March 27, 2015

The Difference Between Praise That Promotes Narcissism vs. Healthy Self-Esteem

Hans Pama/Flickr
Hans Pama/Flickr
By Poncie Rutsch, NPR

When a kid does something amazing, you want to tell her so. You might tell her that she’s very smart. You might tell her that she’s a very special kid. Or you might say that she must have worked really hard.

On the surface, they all sound like the same compliments. But according to Brad Bushman, a communications and psychology professor at Ohio State University, the first two increase the child’s chances of becoming a narcissist. Only the last one raises the child’s self-esteem and keeps her ego in check.
Bushman and a group of collaborators surveyed parents to see how they show warmth and value their child’s accomplishments. They then compared those findings to the children’s levels of self-esteem and narcissism. The results were published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Of course, self-esteem and narcissism are two very different things. The difference has to do with how you value yourself compared to other people. “Self-esteem basically means you’re a person of worth equal with other people,” Bushman tells Shots. “Narcissism means you think you’re better than other people.”
And not in a good way.
“Narcissism is a somewhat toxic personality trait,” Jean Twenge, author of The Narcissism Epidemic and psychology professor at San Diego State University, tells Shots. Narcissists tend to overestimate their abilities, take too many risks and mess up their relationships, she says. Some people see narcissists hurting the people and society around them, but they hurt themselves, too. “In the long term it tends to lead to failure,” Twenge says.
While narcissists tend to have high self-esteem, not all people with high self-esteem are narcissists. Bushman needed to separate the two. So he asked children ages 7 to 12 years old how they felt about statements like “Some kids like the kind of person they are,” or “Kids like me deserve something extra.” The first statement measures self-esteem; the second, narcissism.
Bushman made sure to focus on children between 7 and 12 years old, so that by the time the study finished all of them would be older than 8. “You can’t measure narcissism in children before age 8, because every child is a narcissist,” he says. If you ask younger kids in a classroom if they are good at math or good at baseball, Bushman says all the kids will raise their hands.
Then he surveyed the children’s parents, asking them to respond to statements to determine whether they overvalued their children. For example, “I would not be surprised to learn that my child has extraordinary talents and abilities,” or “Without my child, his/her class would be much less fun.” And he asked how they expressed warmth toward their child by measuring how strongly they agreed with statements like “I let my child know I love him/her.”
When he analyzed the results from the surveys, Bushman found that the more narcissistic children had parents who consistently overvalued their accomplishments. He ran additional tests to make sure that the parents weren’t narcissists, too — after all, it’s possible that the children could be mirroring narcissistic behavior. But statistically, the children of narcissists aren’t more likely to be narcissists themselves.
The research team continued to survey the same group of 565 children and their parents for a year and a half. They watched the children develop, and they could link each child’s tendency toward self-esteem or narcissism back to what the parents had told them six months earlier.
“We’re not just measuring their narcissism at time one; we’re using these measures to predict the behavior a year and a half later,” says Bushman. “Parental warmth doesn’t predict it. Parental narcissism alone doesn’t predict it. But parental overvaluation alone does predict it.”
Bushman is particularly worried about narcissism because both he and other researchers have linked it to aggressive and violent behavior. He thinks it’s partly because narcissists are less likely to feel empathy toward others.
“Empathy involves putting yourselves in other people’s shoes, but narcissists have a very difficult time putting themselves in other people’s shoes,” Bushman says. Plus, he says that narcissists respond poorly when they don’t get special treatment. “Whenever people have this sense of superiority, then they lash out at others in an aggressive way.”
Of course, someone who appears more narcissistic at age 10 isn’t necessarily going to grow up to be a narcissistic adult, let alone aggressive. And the results of this study hinge on a handful of short surveys — no extensive personality testing here.
“There are definitely going to be things that influence the personality after that stage,” says Twenge. “Those [narcissistic] tendencies may start to show up around then, but will continue to be influenced by parenting and environment throughout adolescence.”
But this study has Bushman thinking about the way he praises his own children. “It’s a lot better to say ‘You worked really hard’ than ‘You must be really smart,’ ” he says, “because if you tell the kid that they’re smart and then if they fail they think ‘Oh I’m stupid.’ ” If the praise relates to effort, a child who fails will work harder next time.
Bushman is also trying to cultivate self-esteem in his children, because people with high self-esteem tend to have lower levels of anxiety and depression over time. Based on Bushman’s research, parents can raise their children’s self-esteem just by expressing more warmth.
Both researchers agree that voicing the connection you feel to your children really helps. “If you want to look for a substitute for ‘You’re special,’ just say ‘I love you,’ ” says Twenge. “It’s what you mean, and it’s a much better message.”

10 Ways to Help Your Kid Get a Good Night's Sleep

Essential tips for managing TV, tablets, phones, and more so your kids (and you) can get to sleep -- and stay asleep.
Parents know firsthand the impact a poor night's sleep has on kids. Lack of sleep can contribute to crankiness, problems with attention and learning, behavior issues, and even health problems such as obesity. Though the reasons for poor sleep vary, many parents worry that media and technology interfere with bedtime routines and sleep.
Studies on how media use affects kids' sleep aren't conclusive. But they do highlight certain behaviors that are associated with poor sleep. We've put together a list of tips for ways your family might manage tech use to help your kids (and you!) sleep better. We hope you find something that works for you.
Encourage physical activity instead of screen time after school. After a long day at school, many kids just want to plop down in front of a computer or TV and veg out. Although kids definitely deserve a break, studies show that increasing physical activity during the day can lead to better sleep.
Keep devices off the bed. It's possible that the blue light emitted from laptops, tablets, and smartphones interrupts sleep patterns. Set up other comfy spots in the living room or on the bedroom floor for tweens and teens to do computer work or just enjoy their screen time.
Try white-noise apps to calm babies and toddlers. With bedtimes for young kids starting as early as 6:30 or 7 p.m., you may find it hard to provide a quiet environment for sleeping babies. Apps such as White Noise (iOS/Android, $1.99) or White Noise Baby (iOS/Android, $0.99) can help soothe little ones to sleep while the rest of the family carries on with regular evening activities.  
Limit young kids' exposure to violent content. Especially for kids under 8, seeing violence in videos, on TV shows, in video games, and in movies can directly affect quality sleep. Exposure to media violence can increase kids' anxiety and lead to nightmares that interrupt the sleep cycle.
Keep TVs out of the bedroom. The connection between bedroom TV and poor sleep is well established. Kids don't sleep as well or as long with a TV present.
Make the bedroom a "no-connection" zone. The growing trend of sleep-texting is a disturbing enough reason to play it safe. Confine online activity to common areas such as the dining room or living room and have kids charge their phones in another room at night.
Minimize screen time right before bed. Try to establish the hour or so before bed as a screen-free time for kids to wind down. A calming routine such as a bath followed by quiet activities or reading will help young kids make the transition more easily. Getting teens to "unplug" before bed will help them disconnect from the excitement and drama happening online.
Introduce your kids to meditation or calming apps. Meditation apps can be a quieting addition to kids' bedtime routines. Stop, Breathe & Think (iOS, free) offers 15 guided meditations that encourage kids to take stock of their mental and emotional states.
Set up a phone/iPod charging station in the family room. Some studies suggest that simply sleeping near small devices such as phones is associated with poorer sleep. With notifications and texts coming in at all hours, tweens' and teens' sleep will get fewer interruptions if they leave their phones in the living room or kitchen for the night.
Model healthy sleep habits. No matter which ground rules and routines you put in place for your family, it will be a hard sell if you don't practice what you preach. Young kids emulate their parents, and tweens and teens will question your rules if you don't follow them yourself.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Why “Me Time” Matters: 5 Reasons To Treasure Solitude

Life has a habit of passing us by; too many moments slip away without being seized. We spend the majority of our time working stressful jobs (and that’s without even counting how often we check our emails at home). What’s more, we spend a good proportion of our free time worrying about the future or lamenting the past and, all too soon, we’ve forgotten how to live in the here and now. Hours pass like minutes, days go past unnoticed, and weeks undifferentiated.
Living in the present moment is essential for our happiness and well-being. Research shows that when we are completely present – when we really appreciate our current experiences – external worries melt away. In fact, “me time” is so important for our minds, that we’re asking you to put yourself back on to your priority list…
“Me time” is a holiday for the soul and if you’re not already doing it, start learning to create little islands of solitude in your daily life. Not only will it help you to get in touch with yourself, it also has other benefits, like making us better at sleeping through the night, and enjoying the company of others more… Take heed and follow these 5 steps!

1. It Teaches Us To Enjoy Our Own Company

Being alone doesn’t equate to being lonely. In fact, you can have just as much fun alone as you do with friends. Engaging in “me time” experiences puts us in touch with our own interests and reminds us that we have the power to make ourselves happy. So, put some time aside this week for having a date with yourself!

2. It Can Make Us More Positive

Everyone gets stressed, sometimes – c’mon, we’ve all been there! But thankfully, “me time” means we can actively process our emotions and keep a stress overload at bay. With alone time, you can try and make sense of what you’re thinking and – just by making yourself aware of certain negative feelings, you’ll be able to steer clear of the situations that created them.

3. It Helps Us Sleep Better

When we sleep, our brains process the day’s events and digest emotions. But when our mind’s are running rampant, we all know it can be tough to fall asleep. Taking an hour of “me time” before bed can improve our sleep by eliminating stress and preparing our minds for rest, so try painting your nails, reading a book, or another calming activity.

4. It Gives Us A Sense Of Accomplishment

By making sure we take daily “me time,” we often find that we’re able to start crossing things off our to-do lists, like cooking that recipe we’ve always wanted to try! When we do this, we begin to feel daily senses of accomplishment, and accomplishment is intrinsically tied to boosting confidence and self-worth. As best-selling author Chris Guillebeau says, “It just feels good to tick things off.”

5. It Improves Our Focus

We’ve all heard about the importance of being “mindful,” but what does that mean? Well, simply put, it’s thinking only about what you’re doing as you’re doing it. So, if you use your “me time” to try and maintain your focus on what you’re doing, the theory is that it will relax you, preparing you for times of stress and help you to savor life’s little pleasures!
So, are you convinced of the benefits of “me time,” now? Then start by making a date with yourself! Why not join Amazers’ latest challenge and make a weekly “me time” appointment; a solo expedition to a place that interests you, whether that’s an art gallery, a favourite restaurant, or the top of a mountain. The point is not to accomplish anything per se, it’s simply to have fun – alone!

Lessons Learned:

  • Our stressful lifestyles often mean that we’re not really appreciating what we could.
  • Living in the moment sometimes is essential for our well-being.
  • Learn to treasure the small nests of “me time” around you… It’s worth it!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Why Children Need Chores

16649116705_6b9ffe28eaDaddy-David via Compfight cc

Doing household chores has many benefits—academically, emotionally and even professionally

Chores also teach children how to be empathetic and responsive to others’ needs, notes psychologist Richard Weissbourd of the Harvard Graduate School of Education. In research published last year, he and his team surveyed 10,000 middle- and high-school students and asked them to rank what they valued more: achievement, happiness or caring for others.

Almost 80% chose either achievement or happiness over caring for others. As he points out, however, research suggests that personal happiness comes most reliably not from high achievement but from strong relationships. “We’re out of balance,” says Dr. Weissbourd. A good way to start readjusting priorities, he suggests, is by learning to be kind and helpful at home.

The next time that your child asks to skip chores to do homework, resist the urge to let him or her off the hook, says psychologist Madeline Levine, author of “Teach Your Children Well.” Being slack about chores when they compete with school sends your child the message that grades and achievement are more important than caring about others. “What may seem like small messages in the moment,” she says, “add up to big ones over time.”

Here are some of the best ways to get your children properly motivated to do chores:

  • Watch your language. In a study of 149 3-to-6-year-olds in the journal Child Development last year, researchers found that thanking young children for “being ahelper,” as opposed to “helping,” significantly increased their desire to pitch in. They were motivated by the idea of creating a positive identity—being known as someone who helps.
  • Schedule chore time. Write chores into the calendar, right next to the piano lesson and soccer practice, to maintain consistency.
  • Game it. Like a videogame, start small and have young children earn new “levels” of responsibilities, like going from sorting clothes to earning the right to use the washing machine.
  • Keep allowances and chores separate. Research suggests that external rewards can actually lower intrinsic motivation and performance. With chores, psychologists say that money can lessen a child’s motivation to help, turning an altruistic act into a business transaction.
  • Types of tasks matter. To build prosocial behavior like empathy, chores should be routine and focused on taking care of the family (like dusting the living room or doing everyone’s laundry), not self-care (tidying one’s bedroom or doing personal laundry). Psychologists add that involving children in choosing the tasks makes them more likely to buy in.
  • Talk about chores differently. For better cooperation, instead of saying, “Do yourchores,” Dr. Rende suggests saying, “Let’s do our chores.” This underscores that chores are not just a duty but a way of taking care of each other.
  • Give chores a PR boost. Don’t tie chores to punishments. Keep any talk about chores, including your own, positive or at least neutral. If you complain about doing the dishes, so will your children.

How much sleep does your child need? National Sleep Foundation updates its guidelines

New sleep recommendations may encourage people to stay in bed for an extra hour or two, as experts have updated guidelines for the ideal amount of sleep for each age group.
The National Sleep Foundation and a panel of 18 medical scientists and researchers reviewed over 300 sleep studies to try and find the precise amount of time a person should sleep, according to their age.
While the simple answer is that there is no perfect sleep number to fit each individual, the NSF published a report updating sleep recommendations for all ages.
The ideals are as follows:
Newborns (0 - 3 months): 14-17 hours per day
Infants (4 - 11 months): 12-15 hours per day
Toddlers (1 - 2 years): 11-14 hours per day
Pre-school children (3 - 5 years) 10-13 hours per day
School age children (6 -13 years) 9-11 hours per day
Teenagers (14 - 17 years) 8-10 hours per day
Younger adults (18 - 25 years) 7-9 hours per day
Adults (26 - 64): 7 - 9 hours per day
Older adults (65 years+) 7-8 hours per day
The recommendation for adults has not changed. However the report did add two new categories – younger adults and older adults. Sleep needs vary depending on age, the Foundation said, and can be seriously impacted by lifestyle and health.
Another recent study in Norway revealed that the longer teenagers spend using electronic devices such as smartphones and tablets, the worse their sleep will be.
A study of almost 10,000 16-19  year-olds found that more than two hours of screen time after school linked strongly to delayed and shorter periods of sleep.
Experts said the evidence is so strong that health watchdogs should overhaul guidelines for electronic device use by teenagers.
Those who spent more than four hours staring at a screen per day were three and a half times likelier to sleep fewer than five hours a night, and 49 per cent more likely to take more than an hour to fall asleep. A healthy adult will typically take 30 minutes.
"The recommendations for healthy media use given to parents and adolescents need updating, and age specific guidelines regarding the quantity and timing of electronic media use should be developed," researchers said in a press release.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Everyone waited for it to be taken down. 150 million views later, it's still up. Watch it here.

 As usual, I was awoken by one of my children crawling into our bed. It was my older daughter, who brought a book and curled up under the covers. Being the digital addict that I am, I groggily turned on my phone, and something strange was happening — a bunch of people were talking about a documentary, "Under the Dome," that had just been released in China.
Within 24 hours of its release, it had over 100 million views online. Over the weekend, it had over 150 million views.

But here's the really crazy thing — it might have just changed the game when it comes to China's relationship with the environment.

Everyone in China, from government officials to concerned parents, was watching it.

I emailed a friend of mine in China. He wrote back: "[I'm] in Beijing now. Woman next to me in Starbucks is watching it. It's huge here."

In a country where government censorship shuts down critical voices, how did former journalist Chai Jing break through to reach over 100 million people?

She brought the story home with a message any parent can relate to.

For Jing, the story started in Shanxi, where my paternal grandfather is also from. Growing up in Taiwan, I'd heard a few stories about Shanxi from him, but mostly I just knew of it as a place that was famous for its vinegar. These days, Shanxi is famous for something else: It's considered one of the most polluted places in the world, a result of its massive coal mining operations. But people in China aren't as surprised to hear about the effects of pollution there anymore.

At one point, early in the documentary, Jing plays a clip from an interview she conducted a decade earlier with a toddler in that province:

Absolutely heartbreaking.

But even back then, she never thought her own daughter would suffer the same thing.

When she became pregnant almost a decade later, Jing was happy to learn she was having a little girl — but her joy was threatened by terrible news:

Her unborn daughter already had a tumor.

Before she could even hold her newborn baby, the infant was whisked away for anoperation. Luckily, the surgery was a success, but it left Jing shaken. And it made her even more determined to truly understand the world she was bringing her daughter into. Jing's daughter would grow up in a place with some of the most polluted air in the world.
The cleanliness of air is measured by the number of small particles (or "particulate matter") per cubic meter. According to the EPA, "small particles less than 10 micrometers in diameter pose the greatest problems, because they can get deep into your lungs, and some may even get into your bloodstream."

These fine particles, 1/30th as wide as the average human hair (2.5 micrometers), are the main cause of haze and reduced visibility.

They're also dangerous.

"Under the Dome" is real. Many children in China live most of their days stuck indoors to keep them safe from the polluted air.

During the year that Jing was working on the documentary, only 190 days were safeenough for her to take her daughter outside. The other 175 days were too smoggy to go outside.

Many people in China have been told the "haze" is just part of a bad weather pattern, like fog.

To demolish that myth, Jing carried around an air quality "sampling film" for 24 hours to measure the air in her life and sent it to Dr. Qiu Xinghua at Peking University for analysis.
They found 14 times the acceptable level of a carcinogen, Benzo(a)pyrene, in the sample.
But when it came to looking at particulate matter, even the scientist who analyzed the sample didn't believe his results. He double-checked his math, and the numbers were right:
At one point, Jing tried to go to a lab and subject herself to these levels of toxins so she could test the side effects. And, get this: The lab wouldn't let her do so because it was TOO DANGEROUS. That's right. It was TOO DANGEROUS AND UNETHICAL TO RE-CREATEINSIDE THE LAB the same conditions that millions of people live with every day in China.

So is it hopeless? Jing doesn't think so.

She points out that it wasn't that long ago that places like Pittsburgh and London had similar air pollution problems, and overcame them.
Credit: University of Pittsburgh, Smoke Control Lantern Slide Collection

In 1952, the combination of coal smoke and a windless weather pattern killed an estimated 12,000 people and injured 100,000 in London. 


If these cities can change, it's not too late for China. 

It's impossible not to look at this reporter, this fiercely protective mother, who has taken all of her passion and bravely stood up to her government and to business interests, and respect her bold decision to do her part to make a difference in the world.

This is a riveting and important documentary that comes at a tipping point in China's history. It could have a profound effect on the course that China charts.

And China is listening.

We at Upworthy thought it was so important for English-speaking audiences to understand the power of this groundbreaking documentary, we are providing an English language translation of the first and last 10 minutes of the video.

I highly recommend reading along with the beginning and end, and reading along in English by clicking the "Transcript" button below the video. 

Watch the first 10 minutes here:

You can watch the last 8 minutes here, or for the full documentary experience without having to watch it, you can also read Upworthy's exclusive fully translated summary of the documentary here.

Parents Struggle to Balance Screen Time Rules With Digital Homework

Before my son started kindergarten in a public school in Boulder, Colo., in August, his teacher asked me to bring him in for an assessment. I expected this to be similar to what my daughter experienced when she started kindergarten three years ago — he’d meet his teacher, see his classroom, and then his teacher would ask him a few questions. She’d ask if anybody read to him at home, and see if he knew how to turn the pages of a book and hold it right side up.
On the day we were assigned to come to school, when the teachers separated the kids from the parents, handed us a stack of paperwork to fill out, and ushered the kids into a separate room, I thought that’s what was going on. But about 20 minutes later, the teacher came out and asked me, “Has Theo ever used a computer before?” She explained that the kids were in the computer lab, completing an assessment on the machines.
I told her Theo hadn’t used a mouse much, except for a few times at the library. In fact he hasn’t used any kind of computer much except for limited sessions playing games on the iPad. He’d certainly never sat for a full hour at a computer, as he would during this assessment. “You should know,” I said, “Theo is left-handed.”
When I said this, two other mothers looked up from the papers they were filling out, alarmed, and said that their kids were left-handed too.
“Oh, well that explains it!” the teacher said, and went back into the computer lab to switch the kids’ mice to the left-hand side.
The American Society of Pediatrics’ most recent guidelines for media use among children note that lots of kids are spending seven hours or more a day looking at a screen. They advise the creation of screen-free zones at home, media curfews at meals and before bedtime, and no screen time for kids under 2 years old (an admonition I dutifully followed — it was a happy day when I finally turned on “Sesame Street” for my kids). Kids over age 2 should have no more than one to two hours of screen time a day.
Photo by  Kevin Makice on Flickr and used here with Creative Commons license.
Photo by Kevin Makice on Flickr and used here with Creative Commons license.
Meanwhile, public schools are facing pressure to prepare kids for nationwide tests of the Common Core standards, which begin in the 2014-2015 school year. Most tests for fourth graders and up will be computer-based and require facility with a computer mouse, and the literacy tests will include essays that the kids must type directly into the computer.
Schools are understandably nervous, as in some districts these test scores will determine whether a teacher gets a raise, keeps a job, or if a school is closed. So in my kids’ school and others, they’re ramping up computer lab time and encouraging kids to use literacy and math programs at home, despite the fact that some lack Internet access. According to a 2013 U.S. Census report, 25.6 percent of Americans don’t have home Internet access.
What is a mom to do when the test-focused technology policies of her child’s school conflict with health guidelines and with her own instincts and beliefs about the right way to raise her children?


A few weeks after Theo’s wrong-handed-mouse kindergarten assessment, I met with his teacher for our first parent-teacher conference. Thankfully, she’d done old-fashioned one-on-one evaluations of the kids because this was the first year for the computer assessments and she wasn’t sure how accurate they would be. Still, she presented me with a 17-page printout of the results by a company called i-Ready. The printout includes four pages of advertisements for “Recommended Products from Curriculum Associates” — computer applications parents can buy to drill their kids on these tests, called Ready Common Core Reading Instruction. (The teacher apologized for the ads and suggested I ignore them.)
The wrong-handed-mouse assessment included all kinds of software-generated tips about how to improve skills my son knows perfectly well how to do — when interacting with a person rather than a screen. One of the i-Ready instructions: “Model how to blend onset and rime [sic] of spoken one-syllable words and finish by saying the whole word.”
If a human had assessed my child rather than a machine, I would have gleefully pointed out that they’d misspelled the word rhyme several times in this report. (I can’t resist being a pedant when it’s so much fun.) Or maybe they actually wanted to encourage me to engage my kindergartner in a discussion of hoarfrost? Or perhaps their archaic spelling is in homage to Coleridge? If the creators of this software can’t spell the word rhyme, how can I trust that their academic assessments are valid?
Maybe I should have begun to drill my son on these skills, hoarfrost identification aside, but instead I let the wrong-handed-mouse report drift under other papers, and continued to read to him before bed as I always have, rather than prop him before a computer to practice literacy and mouse-handling skills.
Briggs Gamblin, the director of Communications for Boulder Valley School District (BVSD), noted that this i-Ready assessment for kindergartners is recommended by the Colorado Department of Education. “For some students,” Gamblin wrote in an email, “the computer-based assessment was a new experience. Staff recognize this could impact individual scores.”


Most of what my son does at school seems like joyful, hands-on kindergarten as usual, but at home we are encouraged to have kids log in to a program called Raz-Kids, through which they listen to books and record themselves reading the stories. Every once in awhile we do this for a few days in a row, then the recording mechanism on the program malfunctions, and we forget about it for months.
Raz-Kids homepage.
Raz-Kids homepage.
Meanwhile, in third grade, as the Common Core standards test looms, my daughter has been drilling on typing and test-taking skills. The kids spend time in the computer lab or on computers in the library every day, working on programs such as one called Typing Pal that’s supposed to teach them to touch type fluently (as far as I can tell, painstaking hunting and pecking is still the norm, even after years with this program) and an online reading program called Reading Plus. Teachers can monitor how often students are logging in at home and how many lessons they’re completing.
I think the reading selections in Reading Plus are generally engaging and high-quality. I also think the Common Core test the kids will be taking, called PARCC, is fair and will do a good job of measuring critical thinking skills, judging from the samples I’ve reviewed. But what I don’t feel comfortable with is all the multiple-choice-question drilling the kids are doing to prepare for it.
Briggs Gamblin said, “BVSD does not have a policy restricting or requiring the amount of time children use computers and other electronic devices. However, BVSD practice is that computers and other electronic devices should be a natural part of instruction and used intentionally to enhance and aid instructional practices.”
My daughter does well in school, but at every parent teacher conference I’ve attended so far, the teacher gently suggests that she use the online resources the school makes available more often. I do, for a few weeks after the conference. Then I forget about it, or can’t make the time.
Never once have my kids asked if they can please, please sit at the computer and use Reading Plus or Raz-Kids. Instead, they ask me to please, please read them a book or play with them or take them to the park. Besides, with all the screen time they have at school, when they get home they’ve just about exhausted the American Society of Pediatrics’ recommended media limits for the day.


I started learning to type in a summer class during middle school, but the lessons didn’t really take until high school, when I took a school typing course in which all of the students sat at typewriters, the instructor up front calling out, “A space. J space,” as we clattered along, pressing the corresponding keys. Typing fast and accurately is a skill I used in college and at every job I’ve held since then. But do we really need to make 6-year-olds focus on future job skills?
Some experts see no developmental problem with kids typing young, comparing it to piano playing, while others say kids’ hands are too small to span the keys, or worry about repetitive stress injuries. As of yet, there’s no scientific consensus on the right age to begin to learn to type.
Dr. Brian Volck, assistant professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Hospital Medicine at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, said, “There’s insufficient data to make a definite recommendation. Some children may be ready at an earlier age than others, depending on such factors attention and manual dexterity.”
When I mentioned some of the uses of computers at my kids’ school, including the wrong-handed-mouse test, to Nicholas Carr, technology reporter and author of the Pulitzer Prize-finalist The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains and the new The Glass Cage: Automation and Us, about the misguided rise of automation in education and other sectors, he responded in an email, “This is an entirely wrong-headed approach and runs counter to pretty much everything we know about child development. But technology promises a quick fix, and at the moment, in education and elsewhere, that seems to be what we want.”
I’m all for teaching kids about technology, which will be a part of their personal and work lives forever. But shouldn’t they learn how to write software programs rather than how to scan a text and answer multiple-choice questions on a screen? Shouldn’t they learn about how to assemble computer hardware, build an object with a 3-D printer, or shoot and edit digital video footage rather than passively watch as a computer reads them a book? Many studies suggest that when people read on a screen rather than paper, they read less attentively and retain less. So why aren’t schools using computers for what these machines are actually good at instead?
My daughter tells me that when she and her friends finish their required computer lab activities, they explore. One kid figures out a new trick and teaches the others — how to modify the background of their desktop or play music while they work on Typing Pal, for example. My daughter enjoys learning from her friends and teaching them how to program cartoon cat videos inScratch. This is the kind of learning about computers I feel is more valuable than screen-reading and quizzes — and the kids are teaching themselves.
When I asked Briggs Gamblin why the Boulder Valley School District doesn’t emphasize programming more, he said, “BVSD staff are in the early study of enhancing computer science instruction and activities in elementary and middle school curricular offerings. BVSD staff recognize there is student interest in programming and developing computer/technology skills as part of 21st Century learning.”


Photo by Kelly Piet on Flickr and used here with Creative Commons license.
Photo by Kelly Piet on Flickr and used here with Creative Commons license.
When my kids get home from school, they have about five hours before bedtime. Once they eat, do offline homework, practice sports, piano, or Lego building, eat again, and take a bath, that leaves us with about one precious hour. On most nights I choose to spend that hour reading stories to my kids and talking with them and having them read to me, rather than setting them up on the computer to practice literacy skills.
I don’t blame the teachers for having the kids practice test taking and typing — teachers are under a lot of pressure with the Common Core tests, and they are trying to make sure every kid is comfortable with computers. But at home, I can choose to unplug my kids.
I expect for as long as my kids are in school, teachers will continue to urge me to have them spend more time on the computer, and maybe my kids won’t do as well on the computer tests as their offline intelligence would suggest they should. But somehow, I think the kids will be all right.