As students head back to school with the latest tablets, laptops and smartphones in their knapsacks, some parents worry the abundance of gadgets in their children's lives could be affecting their grades and health.
"I think there is a limitation that needs to be put on technology because you can get so far pulled into this vortex," said Samantha Kemp-Jackson, "Are we raising a whole generation of anxious wired people because of the draw that it has?"
Kemp-Jackson, a Toronto-based parenting advisor and author of MultipleMayhemMamma.com, said that even she needs to take her own advice, admitting her twin sons and daughter are sometimes too connected.
"My two three-year-olds, they play on the computer. They play games on the iPad. They know how to use a smartphone," Kemp-Jackson said. "It's actually kind of disturbing. My eight-year-old daughter goes to her grandparents' house and shows my parents how to use the computer."
Research data suggests the more non-classwork time students spend on computers and online, the more likely it is their grades could suffer.
A 2006 Winona-State University study, for example, surveyed 137 students in a general psychology class and found that laptops, a useful tool, were also the greatest source of distraction during lectures.
A 2010 joint study by Ohio State University and Open University of the Netherlands surveyed 219 students and found a relationship between Facebook use and negative academic performance. It found Facebook users had GPAs in the 3.0 to 3.5 range and studied one to five hours a week; non Facebook users had GPAs in the 3.5 to 4.0 range and studied 11 to 15 hours a week.
Screen time can also contribute to obesity, which can have an impact on health and grades.
According to the Active Healthy Kids Canada 2012 report card, 10- to 16-year-olds get an average of 6 hours and 37 minutes of daily non-classwork screen time. Only 19 per cent of this age group met the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology's sedentary behaviour guideline of no more than two hours of recreational screen time per day.
Another study released in June 2012 in the journal Child Development followed 6,250 children from kindergarten through fifth grade and found that those who were obese scored lower on math tests than non-obese children.
"Our study suggests that childhood obesity, especially obesity that persists throughout the elementary grades, can harm children's social and emotional well-being and academic performance," the study's lead author, Sara Gable, an associate professor of nutrition and exercise physiology at the University of Missouri-Columbia, said in a release.
Set goals and boundaries
To offset the effects of screen time, Benjamin de Graaf advises the fathers he works with to get their kids involved in activities where they can socialize and at the same time be physically active.
De Graaf is the father of a 13 year-old son himself and also the operations manager for Young and Potential Fathers, a community-based organization in Toronto that provides parenting workshops for Black fathers.
"One thing I am doing with my son is I bring him to the YMCA," de Graaf said, "I want him to get acclimated and understand that on Saturday mornings, on weekends, we are going to go to the gym and this is what we are going to do."
To help kids achieve a healthy academic balance, parents and children also need to set goals at the beginning of the academic year and determine homework times, de Graaf said. He believes parents should also do what he calls "modeling behaviour," where children get some sort of reward for completing homework or chores.
"It could be set times that are given. Like, as soon as they come home we get the homework done right away, and then after the homework is done then they will have a little bit of time to get on the internet or play with a device," said de Graaf.
One of the things that de Graaf teaches in his workshops with new fathers is that while it's important to set goals and parameters, it’s even more important to develop a routine.
"I tell the men here direction without follow-up is useless. Your child won't understand that you are serious about what you said if you don't follow up and enforce it," de Graaf said, "For example if it's, 'Do your home work after school' for two nights of the week, and the next two or three it's 'Do whatever you want,' you are setting yourself up to fail."
Every child is different
Boundaries should be tailored to the individual child, Kemp-Jackson said. Parents need to consider a range of factors, such as the age of their kids and what they think is unacceptable when it comes to using computers, tablets, smartphones and video games.
"I really think it depends on the child, their maturity level and what they're using it for. You have to look at various factors when making your decisions," Kemp-Jackson said.
And before setting children up with the latest gear, parents also need to consider whether or not schools even allow students to bring certain gadgets to class.
"Some teachers are very open with having technology and they might be advocating that students have them. And other teachers might say no," said Kemp-Jackson.
University of Toronto professor Clare Brett thinks parents need to be flexible when it comes to parenting this tech generation. Brett lectures on technology-based learning at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, and she said that parents should negotiate with their kids.
"I have two sons and I've been through this route. And I never did the 'you may not do this.'" Brett said, "I talked, but I always talked to them about what they were looking at and what they thought about it.
"Rather than putting yourself in that position where you make these absolutes, 'No you may not do this unless,' you should have a conversation. You learn something else and then you make suggestions."
The bottom line, she says, is that technology can become addictive and parents need to be vigilant.
"I think that anything that becomes so absorbing that it stops you from doing anything else is not a good thing," Brett said.
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Macs Don't Get Viruses
For many years, Apple <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/25/mac-virus-apple_n_1625110.html" target="_hplink">claimed on its website</a> that its computers were better than Windows machines since they weren't susceptible to viruses like PCs were. Sharks don't get cancer, real men don't eat quiche and Apple computers don't get viruses. The times, they are a'changed: In June, Apple <a href="http://www.wired.com/wiredenterprise/2012/06/mac_viruses/" target="_hplink">updated its website</a> and removed the claim of malware immunity <a href="http://nakedsecurity.sophos.com/2012/04/05/mac-botnets-gaining-traction-using-drive-by-java-exploit/" target="_hplink">due to an ongoing spate of viruses</a> attacking the Mac OS. The <a href="http://nakedsecurity.sophos.com/2012/04/24/mac-malware-study/" target="_hplink">security buffs at Sophos recently found that</a> 2.6 percent of Macs that had downloaded a virus-checker were in fact infected with malware. Seems like there may be a business in <a href="http://www.avast.com/free-antivirus-mac" target="_hplink">anti-virus software for the Mac</a>, after all. (And while we're on the subject, I am proud to announce that I do love me some quiche.)
The More Megapixels A Camera Has, The Better It Is
<a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EbVKWCpNFhY" target="_hplink">When asked why his speakers</a>, whose volume count went to 11 rather than the traditional 10, were superior to other speakers, Spinal Tap lead singer Nigel Tufnel chewed his gum, thought about it for a moment, and then responded, "Well, it's one louder, isn't it?" before famously concluding, "These go to 11." It was nonsense, and so is the idea that the higher the megapixel count on a camera, the better that camera is. Just because a camera goes "one louder" than another does not mean it will give you better photos. A higher megapixel count is important if you plan on blowing up a photo to a larger size and don't want to lose quality (<a href="http://www.cnet.com/8301-17918_1-57423240-85/camera-megapixels-why-more-isnt-always-better-smartphones-unlocked/" target="_hplink">CNET explains</a>), but for normal viewing, megapixels aren't as important as having a quality camera lens and light sensor. More goes into a camera than just megapixels, and you shouldn't be making your digital camera or smartphone selection based solely on the number of MPs it boasts (<a href="http://gizmodo.com/5888552/reminder-megapixels-dont-matter" target="_hplink">Gizmodo has a nice, human explanation</a> of why "megapixels don't matter"). Photography is more nuanced than a round number. There are better ways to get that "extra push over the cliff" (as Tufnel puts it) than increasing your megapixels.
Closing Out Apps On Your iPhone Extends Battery Life
For a long time, the common wisdom held that in order to save battery life on the iPhone, we could just double-tap the home button and close out all the apps on the bottom tray that we weren't using. BLOOP BLOOP BLOOP: 'X' out of the apps, and battery would be saved. Except, here's the thing: Those apps you see when you press the home button twice aren't actually running or using up any battery. <a href="http://speirs.org/blog/2012/1/2/misconceptions-about-ios-multitasking.html" target="_hplink">As Fraser Speirs pointed out earlier this year</a>, that row of icons is a list of recently used apps, NOT currently-running apps; when you hit the home button and exit an app, the iPhone automatically shuts it down after five seconds or so. Except in special cases (<a href="http://speirs.org/blog/2012/1/2/misconceptions-about-ios-multitasking.html" target="_hplink">listed on Speirs' site</a>), the app is not running nor eating up battery life. Closing out apps might be dang satisfying -- it's like playing whack-a-mole! -- but it is almost certainly not preserving battery life.
Leaving Your Laptop Plugged In Will Kill The Battery
Here's a typical worry about laptop batteries, <a href="http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20080914152547AAWBAXW" target="_hplink">from a curious bloke at the estimable Yahoo! Answers</a>: <blockquote>i work at my desk, so my laptop is plugged in even when I am not using it. Is it true this ruins the battery? If that is the case, should i remove the battery when i am not using it?? </blockquote> The short answer (which the top respondent got correct!): No, you are not ruining your laptop battery by keeping it on charge, unless your laptop is very, very old. This myth may have been true of nickel-based laptop batteries, which laptops and smartphones seldom use anymore; most laptops nowadays, however, use lithium-based batteries, which are not susceptible to "losing charge" if you keep them plugged in all the time. In fact, it's <a href="http://www.dansdata.com/danletters017.htm" target="_hplink">probably better to stay plugged in</a> than it is to constantly drain your battery to zero percent and then recharge over and over again, an act that lowers your battery's lifespan. For much more, tech writer Marco Arment <a href="http://www.marco.org/2009/09/24/laptop-battery-myths" target="_hplink">explains The Way Lithium Batteries Work on his website.</a> Speaking of pesky battery myths, by the way...
You Need To Run Down Your Battery All The Way At Least Once A Week, Perhaps More
Again, this is <a href="http://www.tuaw.com/2009/09/24/10-6-falsely-reports-service-battery-i-think-not/" target="_hplink">an old bit of wisdom</a> applied erroneously to new technologies. Your lithium-ion battery is only good for so many "cycles," <a href="http://www.dansdata.com/danletters017.htm" target="_hplink">according to long-time tech writer Daniel Rutter</a>. Allowing your battery to drop to 10 percent and then recharging counts as a cycle, wears on the battery, and reduces its longevity. It's not something you want to do too often, unless you really enjoy battery shopping. <a href="http://lifehacker.com/5875162/how-often-should-i-charge-my-gadgets-battery-to-prolong-its-lifespan" target="_hplink">Lifehacker recommends</a> a full discharge once a month, though <a href="http://www.marco.org/2009/09/24/laptop-battery-myths" target="_hplink">there's some debate about</a> whether even this step is necessary.
Leaving Your Laptop On Your Lap Will Make You Sterile
Watch out, guys: Your laptop is <em>literally</em> zapping your sperm one by one, like Marvin the Martian with a vendetta against your little guys. I can understand why this scary story -- in which <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/29/laptop-wifi-sperm-damage-electromagnetic-radiation_n_1118726.html" target="_hplink">a team of researchers found that</a> sperm exposed to radiation from laptop WiFi had badly damaged DNA and were less motile -- might make men think twice about holding their laptops on their laps, unless they were wearing some kind of radiation-blocking iron jockstrap (and really, who doesn't?). But it now appears that the study was carelessly carried out and likely did not indicate that our sperm was in danger in a real-world setting. Here's Dr. Robert Oates, President of the Society for Male Reproduction and Urology, <a href="http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-504763_162-57332822-10391704/laptops-damage-sperm-what-wi-fi-study-shows/" target="_hplink">debunking the findings in Reuters</a>: "This is not real-life biology, this is a completely artificial setting...It is scientifically interesting, but to me it doesn't have any human biological relevance." There are plenty of good reasons not to hold your laptop on your lap: The descriptively named "toasted skin syndrome" or "laptop thigh" (DO NOT GOOGLE) being one of them -- but an evisceration of your sperm by the notebook's WiFi signal is not one of them. You, and your semen, can rest safe.
The QWERTY Keyboard Was Designed To Slow Typists Down
A lot of keyboard elitists -- yes, they exist, mostly in Portland -- will try to claim to you that the QWERTY layout was so designed in order to slow down typists and that only simpletons still use QWERTY, the sophisticated herd having switched over to the DVORAK layout. But hold your head high, QWERTY user: It isn't true, at all. The (incorrect) story goes that back in the early days of the typewriter, in the 1870s, a newspaper editor was tired of how often his reporters' typewriters kept jamming, so he conspired to configure the keys to be so idiotically placed with respect to one another that even the nimblest typists would be slowed down and jams would be reduced. A pretty story but -- alas! -- not true. The QWERTY layout <em>was</em> decided upon in order to reduce jams, but <em>not</em> by making the act of typing slower. Instead, <a href="http://home.earthlink.net/~dcrehr/whyqwert.html" target="_hplink">as this helpful article explains</a>, the keys were laid out according to a combination of letter frequency and so that hitting common letter combinations -- "t" and "h," for example -- would not cause internal jammage. Thus was born the modern keyboard, which just so happened to have the letters Q-W-E-R-T-Y in order across the top row. In the 1930s, a <a href="http://www.mit.edu/~jcb/Dvorak/" target="_hplink">new keyboard was invented</a>: the DVORAK, which put the five most frequently used vowels and the five most frequently used consonants in the middle row. By then, however, the QWERTY had such a strong foothold that it would continue to be the default keyboard for decades to come (except in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where I hear DVORAK's <em>huge</em>).
A Magnet Can And Will Erase Your Hard Drive
Magnets: How do they work? It's a sincere mystery to most, but this much we do know: Unless you keep some ridiculously powerful degaussing magnets in your home, you're probably not going to zap your hard drive with one. <a href="http://www.pcworld.com/article/116572/busting_the_biggest_pc_myths.html" target="_hplink">PCWorld debunked this one</a> all the way back in 2004: Though a common magnet can erase the contents of a floppy disk (remember those?), USB storage, SD cards, and laptop and desktop hard drives are safe from all but the very strongest magnets. In more detail, meanwhile, <a href="http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2407192,00.asp" target="_hplink">PCMag attempted to find out</a> what it would take to use a magnet to erase a laptop's hard drive without removing it: The magazine found that you would need an incredibly strong, industrial-strength magnet pointed in just the right direction in order to wipe a hard drive's contents, and that it was about as unlikely as my getting a date to junior prom (really, really unlikely). In other words, your data is probably A-OK if you accidentally place a refrigerator magnet on your MacBook. Better safe than sorry, of course -- you shouldn't keep magnets near your hard drive, nor your laptop near your sperm, nor magnets near your sperm, etc. -- but it's still not likely you're going to wipe your memory with any magnet you keep at home.
Facebook Is About To Start Charging For Service
No, it isn't. Don't believe the chain letters, or your great uncle's alarmist status, or whatever. Facebook is never going to charge for service. As proof, I offer a section <a href="https://www.facebook.com/help/myths" target="_hplink">from the Facebook Help Center</a> entitled "Facebook Myths." And I quote: <blockquote>Will Facebook ever charge for service? No. We will always keep Facebook a free service for everyone. </blockquote> Sorry, conspiracy theorists: Facebook is likely to stay free forever, until the day it folds after the never-saw-it-coming resurgence of MySpace.