Category Archives: At home

Looking at the research on screen time (Best Evidence in Brief)

There is a new Best Evidence in Brief and this time I’m picking this study from their overview:

Courtney Nugent and Lauren Supplee from Child Trends have released a research brief on five ways screen time can benefit children and families. The brief looks at guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), and links to multiple sources of research on the topic, such as journal articles in the International Journal of Child-Computer Interaction and Infant and Child Development.
The five recommendations are as follows:
  • Certain kinds of digital tools can support family interactions. For example, using video chat (Skype, Facetime, etc.) allows family members to connect with one another when in-person interactions may not be possible.
  • It’s important to support children’s healthy development through co-viewing and co-playing. For example, it is important that parents answer and ask questions about the material they are co-viewing, point out important concepts, and blend the content they are viewing together into their daily lives and routines.
  • Parents can choose high-quality digital content for their child’s viewing. The brief notes that websites like Common Sense Media, PBS Kids, and Sesame Workshop can help parents decide which apps and programs are best for their children.
  • Like physical tools, digital tools can promote school readiness. According to the brief,research suggests that preschoolers can learn best from well-designed e-books with limited distracting features (such as games and sounds), and when parents’ questions focus on the stories themselves rather than the features of the electronic medium (such as pushing buttons).
  • Digital tools can support parent and child togetherness. For example, technology can elicit exciting topics for conversation and encourage family members to spend time with one another.

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No big surprise:? Kids from wealthier families feel more control over their lives

How do you experience socio-economic status? This new study – although based on rather old but very complete data from the eighties and beginning of the nineties – examined which measures of socioeconomic status — parents’ education, family income, race and parents’ occupation — have the greatest influence over a child’s locus of control and more importantly: why.

From the press release:

Building on previous research that has shown that kids who feel more control experience better academic, health and even occupational outcomes, the findings underscore how the kids who most need this psychological resource may be the least likely to experience it.

The study by Dara Shifrer, a sociology professor in PSU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, was published online this month in the journal Society and Mental Health. It’s titled, “The Contributions of Parental, Academic, School, and Peer Factors to Differences by Socioeconomic Status in Adolescents’ Locus of Control.”

Using data from 16,450 U.S. eighth graders surveyed for the National Education Longitudinal Study in 1988 and 1990, Shifrer examined which measures of socioeconomic status — parents’ education, family income, race and parents’ occupation — have the greatest influence over a child’s locus of control and why.

Locus of control describes the degree to which people feel control over their lives. People at one end of the scale, with external control, believe they are powerless and credit their successes and failures to other people, luck or fate. On the other end, people with internal control see their destiny as largely in their own hands.

Shifrer concluded that kids with higher socioeconomic status were more likely to have an internal locus of control, in large part because their parents discuss school more often with them, their homes have more books and other resources, they receive higher grades, they are more likely to attend a private school, their friends are more academically oriented, and they feel safer at school.

“We know income shapes the way people parent, shapes the peers that kids have, shapes the schools they attend,” she said. “It’s not just kids’ perception — their lives are a little bit more out of control when they’re poor.”

Shifrer said the study gives social scientists a better understanding by which family income influences child development.

Shifrer does acknowledge that there are some limitations to her study, which uses data from the early 1990s.

However, the data is one of the few large national datasets that measures adolescents’ locus of control, according to Shifrer. She said it is unlikely that its measure of locus of control is outdated, but suggests that the disparities in internal control could be even more stark today with increasing inequality and shifts in parenting norms and social media use.

Abstract of the study:

An internal locus of control may be particularly valuable for youth with low socioeconomic status (SES), yet the mechanisms that externalize their control remain unclear. This study uses data on 16,450 U.S. eighth graders surveyed for the National Education Longitudinal Study in 1988 and 1990. Results indicate family income is more closely associated with adolescents’ locus of control than parents’ occupations and educational attainment and that race does not independently affect adolescents’ locus of control net of these other components of SES. Findings also indicate higher SES adolescents feel more internal locus of control in largest part because their parents discuss school more often with them, their homes have more books and other cognitive resources, they receive higher grades in middle school science and social studies, they are more likely to attend a private rather than public school, their friends are more academically oriented, and they feel safer at school.

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How parents stimulate early numeracy: counting, sorting and simple sums

We know that being good in mathematics is heavily influenced by genetics, but that doesn’t mean that nurture has no influence. This new Belgian study (Yeah!) finds links between certain math skills in young children and specific numerical activities undertaken at home with parents. The researchers also state that the more parents engage in mathematical activities with their children, the higher their early numeracy performance. But maybe genetics isn’t really of the table, as you will notice…

From the press release (warning in bold by me):

New research links specific numerical activities undertaken by parents to certain math skills in young children. Published today in open-access journal Frontiers in Psychology, the study also finds that the more parents engage in mathematical activities with their children, the higher their early numeracy performance.

Previous studies indicate that early mathematical skills provide a better transition to school-taught mathematics. It’s well-known that parents can play an important role in their children’s early mathematical development — but, until now, the link between specific numerical activities and certain math skills was not well understood.

To shed light on these links, researchers from KU Leuven in Belgium assessed 128 kindergarten-age children for various symbolic and non-symbolic numerical tasks. The researchers also asked parents to indicate the frequency of certain numeracy activities undertaken with their children at home and then looked for connections between this and the children’s early numeracy skills.

“We found that the more parents engaged in activities such as identifying numerals, sorting objects by size, color, or shape, or learning simple sums, the higher the children performed on skills like counting,” says the study’s lead author, Belde Mutaf Yildiz.

“These activities — and talking about money when shopping or measuring ingredients while cooking — were linked with a more accurate estimation of the position of a digit on an empty number line. In addition, engaging in activities such as card and board games was associated with better pictorial calculation skills.”

Mutaf Yildiz says the research supports and extends the idea that parent-child interaction plays a role in children’s acquisition of early mathematical skills — and that policymakers should recognize this.

“Increased public awareness on the role that parents can play in their children’s development of mathematical skills just by doing more number related activities in a home environment would be hugely useful,” she says.

“Policymakers should think about providing educational tools for some home numeracy activities to help parents enhance their children’s mathematical development.”

The researchers caution that the study’s findings are based on cross-sectional design and correlation analysis, meaning that the results don’t indicate any cause-and-effect relationship. For example, it could be that children who are already good at mathematics are the ones triggering ‘home numeracy’ instead of their parents.

Despite this, with research on home numeracy in its infancy, Mutaf Yildiz and her colleagues are calling for more comprehensive investigations and observations of home numeracy activities, as well as further intervention studies to determine which specific activities best help children enhance their mathematical skills.

I can add a warning too. Maybe the parents are better at math, their children therefor too, which could lead to more mathematic interplay. Still, an interesting study

Abstract of the study:

Home numeracy has been shown to play an important role in children’s mathematical performance. However, findings are inconsistent as to which home numeracy activities are related to which mathematical skills. The present study disentangled between various mathematical abilities that were previously masked by the use of composite scores of mathematical achievement. Our aim was to shed light on the specific associations between home numeracy and various mathematical abilities. The relationships between kindergartners’ home numeracy activities, their basic number processing and calculation skills were investigated. Participants were 128 kindergartners (Mage = 5.43 years, SD = 0.29, range: 4.88–6.02 years) and their parents. The children completed non-symbolic and symbolic comparison tasks, non-symbolic and symbolic number line estimation tasks, mapping tasks (enumeration and connecting), and two calculation tasks. Their parents completed a home numeracy questionnaire. Results indicated small but significant associations between formal home numeracy activities that involved more explicit teaching efforts (i.e., identifying numerals, counting) and children’s enumeration skills. There was no correlation between formal home numeracy activities and non-symbolic number processing. Informal home numeracy activities that involved more implicit teaching attempts, such as “playing games” and “using numbers in daily life,” were (weakly) correlated with calculation and symbolic number line estimation, respectively. The present findings suggest that disentangling between various basic number processing and calculation skills in children might unravel specific relations with both formal and informal home numeracy activities. This might explain earlier reported contradictory findings on the association between home numeracy and mathematical abilities.

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The strange link between grade inflation and housing prices

What is grade inflation? Wikipedia gives two descriptions:

  1.  grading leniency: the awarding of higher grades than students deserve, which yields a higher average grade given to students
  2. the tendency to award progressively higher academic grades for work that would have received lower grades in the past.

In this study, we need to take the second description into account. Grade inflation in this second sense is something a lot of people think, other people say it’s not the case and this study says… grade inflation at English primary schools can increase the price of surrounding houses by up to £7,000. Do note this is a working paper and not a peer reviewed study!

From the press release:

The study finds that as parents are drawn to areas with what appear to be higher school scores, the demand for housing escalates and poorer residents are driven out. The researchers examined data from more than 23,000 neighbourhoods in England, using results of more than five million students enrolled since 1998.

The study, published as a QMUL School of Economics and Finance Working Paper, looked at the period from 1998 to 2007, when English schools used a process called ‘borderlining’ to regrade exams from students who narrowly missed out on a higher Key Stage result.

Erich Battistin, Professor of Economics at QMUL and lead author of the study says the period provides a “perfect test environment” to interrogate an important policy question: can grade inflation change the composition of neighbourhoods?

Borderlining was abolished in 2007 by the Department of Education, following evidence that the procedure caused grade inflation in primary schools for thousands of students. However, the effects of grade inflation that accumulated over one decade before the abolition of borderlining triggered inequalities across neighbourhoods that are persistent and identifiable through to the present day.

The results of the study, co-authored with Dr Lorenzo Neri from QMUL, show that a three percentage point increase (from a baseline of 26 per cent) in the number of students who perform above expectations at Key Stage 2 increases local house prices by 1.5 per cent.

The effect on prices is more dramatic in areas with more than one good school. According to Dr Neri, this is due to a “hedging effect,” where parents gravitate more strongly to areas that have a number of highly-rated schools. He says that in these areas the combined grade inflation of more than one school can increase house prices by three per cent, or £7,000.

“What our study shows is that even very small levels of grade inflation can make a significant impact on house prices,” says Professor Battistin. “The reason for this is well documented by previous studies: parents respond to even the smallest marginal differences in the performance of local schools. Over time, this has a significant effect on the composition of the local neighbourhood and makes the area less affordable for poorer families.

“It’s not new to show that prices and demography are influenced by quality — but what we show is that they can be affected significantly even by a false perception of quality. It’s not really there, it’s just statistical noise — sometimes generated by the benign intentions of markers to bump up marginal students, not necessarily for accountability purposes.” He adds that the results are relevant in the context of recent cheating scandals, in the UK and elsewhere, which he says need to be understood in terms of policy implications as well as in the context of standards and behaviour.

The researchers also show that the effects spill over to the composition of businesses and demography in local areas. They demonstrate that neighbourhoods in the catchment of schools with more grade inflation experience a more pronounced increase in the number of grocery shops, restaurants and coffeehouses surrounding schools, most likely because local retailers respond to the arrival of richer homeowners.

Methodology

The researchers compared similar blocks in the catchment of schools which, without borderlining, would have scored the same quality in national performance tables. The underlying assumption is that prices across these blocks would have changed similarly over time had manipulation not occurred.

They found a sharper price change for blocks in the catchment of schools where scores were the most inflated. The research methods included the use of large administrative databases and econometric analysis exploiting micro-level data on students, schools, house transactions and businesses. Results survived to the inclusion of neighbourhoods’ socio-economic characteristics at a very fine level; furthermore, regulation regarding the borderlining practice, coupled with a series of robustness checks, ensured that a clear causal relationship can be established.

Abstract of the working paper:

We show that grading standards for primary school exams in England have triggered an inflation of quality indicators in the national performance tables for almost two decades. The cumulative effects have resulted in significant differences in the quality signaled to parents for otherwise identical schools. These differences are as good as random, with score manipulation resulting from discretion in the grading of randonly assigned external markers. We find large housing price gains from the school quality improvements artificially signaled by manipulation as well as lower deprivation and more businesses catering to families in local neighbourhoods. The design ensures improved external validity for the valuation of school quality with respect to boundary discontinuities and has the potential for replication outside of our specific case study.

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Schools alone cannot help to prevent childhood obesity

I’m keeping track what schools need to do for Flanders as stated in the media. One that has been popular in the past is preventing childhood obesity. This new British study shows that schools can’t do this in on their own.

From the press release:

The warning comes after one of the largest childhood obesity prevention trials undertaken to date has found that a healthy lifestyle intervention carried out in dozens of schools did not lead to significant changes in pupils’ weight.

Led by the University of Birmingham, the West Midlands ActiVe lifestyle and healthy Eating in School children (WAVES) study was a trial funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR). It aimed to assess the clinical and cost-effectiveness of a programme of activities designed to support children aged six and seven in keeping their weight at a healthy level by promoting healthy eating and physical activity.

Excess weight in childhood is a global problem, affecting around 41 million children under the age of 5 years1. In addition to physical and psychosocial health consequences in these early years, childhood excess weight is an important predictor of obesity in adulthood2, with additional adverse health and economic3 effects. In the UK around a quarter of children have excess weight at school entry (age four to five years)4. The proportion of very overweight children doubles during the subsequent six years (from approximately 9% to 19%)4, highlighting this time period as critical for preventive action.

The 12-month WAVES study intervention included a daily additional 30 minute school-time physical activity opportunity, and a six-week interactive skill based programme in conjunction with a premiership football club. It also included signposting of local family physical activity opportunities through six-monthly mail-outs and termly school led family healthy cooking skills workshops.

Almost 1,500 pupils from 54 state primary schools in the West Midlands took part in the trial. Their measurements — including weight, height, percentage body fat, waist circumference, skinfold thickness, and blood pressure — were taken when they started the trial. They also wore an activity tracker for five days, recorded their dietary intake and took part in assessments to establish their perceived quality of life, social acceptance and body image. These measurements were taken again 15 months and 30 months later and were compared among pupils who were or were not taking part in the intervention.

The results of the randomised controlled trial, published today in The BMJ, found that the intervention did not result in a significant difference in participants’ weight status.

Professor Peymané Adab, of the University of Birmingham’s Institute of Applied Health Research, said: “Our research, combined with wider evidence, suggests that schools cannot lead on the childhood obesity prevention agenda.”

Dr Miranda Pallan, also of the University of Birmingham’s Institute of Applied Health Research, added: “Whilst school is an important setting for influencing children’s health behaviour, and delivery of knowledge and skills to support healthy lifestyles is one of their mandatory functions, widespread policy change and broader influences from the family, community, media and the food industry is also needed.”

The research team added: “although wider implementation of this WAVES study intervention cannot be recommended for obesity prevention, the lower cost components could in the future be considered by schools to fullfil their mandated responsibilities for health and wellbeing education.”

Abstract of the study:

Objective To assess the effectiveness of a school and family based healthy lifestyle programme (WAVES intervention) compared with usual practice, in preventing childhood obesity.

Design Cluster randomised controlled trial.

Setting UK primary schools from the West Midlands.

Participants 200 schools were randomly selected from all state run primary schools within 35 miles of the study centre (n=980), oversampling those with high minority ethnic populations. These schools were randomly ordered and sequentially invited to participate. 144 eligible schools were approached to achieve the target recruitment of 54 schools. After baseline measurements 1467 year 1 pupils aged 5 and 6 years (control: 28 schools, 778 pupils) were randomised, using a blocked balancing algorithm. 53 schools remained in the trial and data on 1287 (87.7%) and 1169 (79.7%) pupils were available at first follow-up (15 month) and second follow-up (30 month), respectively.

Interventions The 12 month intervention encouraged healthy eating and physical activity, including a daily additional 30 minute school time physical activity opportunity, a six week interactive skill based programme in conjunction with Aston Villa football club, signposting of local family physical activity opportunities through mail-outs every six months, and termly school led family workshops on healthy cooking skills.

Main outcome measures The protocol defined primary outcomes, assessed blind to allocation, were between arm difference in body mass index (BMI) z score at 15 and 30 months. Secondary outcomes were further anthropometric, dietary, physical activity, and psychological measurements, and difference in BMI z score at 39 months in a subset.

Results Data for primary outcome analyses were: baseline, 54 schools: 1392 pupils (732 controls); first follow-up (15 months post-baseline), 53 schools: 1249 pupils (675 controls); second follow-up (30 months post-baseline), 53 schools: 1145 pupils (621 controls). The mean BMI z score was non-significantly lower in the intervention arm compared with the control arm at 15 months (mean difference −0.075 (95% confidence interval −0.183 to 0.033, P=0.18) in the baseline adjusted models. At 30 months the mean difference was −0.027 (−0.137 to 0.083, P=0.63). There was no statistically significant difference between groups for other anthropometric, dietary, physical activity, or psychological measurements (including assessment of harm).

Conclusions The primary analyses suggest that this experiential focused intervention had no statistically significant effect on BMI z score or on preventing childhood obesity. Schools are unlikely to impact on the childhood obesity epidemic by incorporating such interventions without wider support across multiple sectors and environments.

 

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Children with cochlear implant are better in learning words than hearing children

I think cochlear implants are a present day miracle – let the deaf hear again? – and this study at first surprised me, but when looking a bit closer, I can see why this could be: Children with cochlear implant are better in learning words than hearing children.

From the press release (bold by me):

For many years scientists tinkered to find a perfect replacement for the damaged or dysplastic inner ear. Cochlear implants receive a sound, convert it into electrical stimuli and send these impulses directly to the auditory nerve, thereby giving hearing impaired children the chance to connect to the world of sounds and noises.

It has so far been assumed that these children reach the language level of children with normal hearing much later. Previous studies showed that from the moment of having the device implanted, children need longer to attain the important steps of learning their mother tongue — for instance, being able to distinguish the rhythm of their mother tongue from that of another language. This could imply that developmental milestones necessary to start school are also delayed, although they reach all the other developmental stages needed.

A current study at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences (MPI CBS) in Leipzig and the University Medical Centre Dresden has now revealed something different: “We observed that when deaf children get their implants, they learn words faster than those with normal hearing. Consequently, they build up certain word pools faster”, says Niki Vavatzanidis, first author of the underlying study and scientist at MPI CBS and the University Medical Centre Dresden. Normally, children need fourteen months to reliably recognise that known objects are named incorrectly. Children with an artificial cochlea were already able to do so after twelve months.

The reason for this finding could be that children with cochlear implants are older when they are first exposed to spoken language. Those with normal hearing learn aspects of language, such as the rhythm and melody of their mother tongue, from birth and even in the womb. In deaf children, this only starts at the time of their cochlear replacement, at the age of around one to four years. By this time certain brain structures necessary for language acquisition are already well developed. “It is not just the memory, but also the broader knowledge about their surroundings that is more formed. They already know about objects in their environment and have accumulated non-linguistic semantic categories”, states Vavatzanidis. For example, they already know that objects such as cups or meals could be hot and that heat could be something harmful without knowing the word “hot”.

The neuroscientists examined these relations with the help of thirty-two children with cochlear implant in both ears. They carried out a test after twelve, eighteen and twenty-four months after implantation that tested their ability to recognise words: The young study participants were shown pictures of objects which were named either correctly or incorrectly. In parallel to this, the scientist analysed the brain activities of the little ones using electroencephalography (EEG). If the researchers detected an effect in the EEG known as N400, they knew that the child registered the incorrect word. This means they had established a stable connection between objects and their names. They had learnt the word.

“Children with cochlear implants could help us understand the general processes of language acquisition and determine which single steps are age-dependent”, Angela D. Friederici explains, study leader and head of MPI CBS. “We now know that age does not affect how fast children learn words. On the contrary, they seem to catch up even if they were previously disadvantaged.” Upcoming studies should now focus on why some of the affected children, despite these findings, struggle to reach the level of their contemporaries with normal hearing.

Abstract of the study:

In the present study we explore the implications of acquiring language when relying mainly or exclusively on input from a cochlear implant (CI), a device providing auditory input to otherwise deaf individuals. We focus on the time course of semantic learning in children within the second year of implant use; a period that equals the auditory age of normal hearing children during which vocabulary emerges and extends dramatically. 32 young bilaterally implanted children saw pictures paired with either matching or non-matching auditory words. Their electroencephalographic responses were recorded after 12, 18 and 24 months of implant use, revealing a large dichotomy: Some children failed to show semantic processing throughout their second year of CI use, which fell in line with their poor language outcomes. The majority of children, though, demonstrated semantic processing in form of the so-called N400 effect already after 12 months of implant use, even when their language experience relied exclusively on the implant. This is slightly earlier than observed for normal hearing children of the same auditory age, suggesting that more mature cognitive faculties at the beginning of language acquisition lead to faster semantic learning.

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The only video you’ll ever need to watch about Gluten

This is not really the kind of video I normally share on this blog, but I really like what the American Chemical Society and PBS Digital Studios do in their Reactions-video’s. A very nice example of science communication, imho.

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The power of families eating together

It’s very hard to examine if the correlation between families eating together and a better life for children and adolescents later on is a causal relation. It could well be that other elements play a role that cause both the better health and the chance of eating together. This new Canadian study doesn’t deliver the smoking gun, but does add some weight to the idea that eating together as a family can be very powerful.

From the press release:

“There is a handful of research suggesting positive links between eating family meals together frequently and child and adolescent health,” Pagani said. “In the past, researchers were unclear on whether families that ate together were simply healthier to begin with. And measuring how often families eat together and how children are doing at that very moment may not capture the complexity of the environmental experience.”

The study looked at chilldren who had been followed by researchers since they were 5 months old as part of the Quebec Longitudinal Study of Child Development. At age 6, their parents started reporting on whether or not they had family meals together. At age 10, parents, teachers and the children themselves provided information on the children’s lifestyle habits and their psycho-social well-being.

“We decided to look at the long-term influence of sharing meals as an early childhood family environment experience in a sample of children born the same year,” Pagani said, “and we followed-up regularly as they grew up. Using a birth cohort, this study examines the prospective associations between the environmental quality of the family meal experience at age 6 and child well-being at age 10.”

When the family meal environment quality was better at age 6, higher levels of general fitness and lower levels of soft-drink consumption were observed at age 10. These children also seemed to have more social skills, as they were less likely to self-report being physical aggressive, oppositional or delinquent at age 10.

“Because we had a lot of information about the children before age 6 — such as their temperament and cognitive abilities, their mother’s education and psychological characteristics, and prior family configuration and functioning — we were able to eliminate any pre-existing conditions of the children or families that could throw a different light on our results,” said Harbec. “It was really ideal as a situation.”

Added Pagani: “The presence of parents during mealtimes likely provides young children with firsthand social interaction, discussions of social issues and day-to-day concerns, and vicarious learning of prosocial interactions in a familiar and emotionally secure setting. Experiencing positive forms of communication may likely help the child engage in better communication skills with people outside of the family unit. Our findings suggest that family meals are not solely markers of home environment quality, but are also easy targets for parent education about improving children’s well-being.”

“From a population-health perspective, our findings suggest that family meals have long-term influences on children’s physical and mental well-being,” said Harbec.

At a time when fewer families in Western countries are having meals together, it would be especially opportune now for psycho-social workers to encourage the practice at home — indeed, even make it a priority, the researchers believe. And family meals could be touted as advantageous in public-information campaigns that aim to optimize child development.

Abstract of the study:

Objective:

Past research suggests a positive link between family meals and child and adolescent health. Although researchers have often relied on how often families eat together, this may not capture the complexity of the experience. Using a birth cohort, this study examines the prospective associations between the environmental quality of the family meal experience at age 6 years and child well-being at age 10.

Methods:

Participants are 1492 children of the Quebec Longitudinal Study of Child Development. When children were age 6, parents reported on their typical family meal environment quality. At age 10, parents, teachers, and children themselves provided information on lifestyle habits, academic achievement, and social adjustment, respectively. The relationship between early family meal environment quality and later child outcomes was analyzed using a series of multivariate linear regression.

Results:

Family meal environment quality at age 6 predicted higher levels of general fitness and lower levels of soft drink consumption, physical aggression, oppositional behavior, nonaggressive delinquency, and reactive aggression at age 10. These relationships were adjusted for child characteristics (sex, temperament problems and cognitive abilities, and baseline body mass index [BMI]) and family characteristics (family configuration and functioning, maternal education, depression, and BMI).

Conclusion:

From a population-health perspective, our findings suggest that family meals have long-term influences on children’s biopsychosocial well-being. At a time when family meal frequency is on a natural decline in the population, this environmental characteristic can become a target of home-based interventions and could be featured in information campaigns that aim to optimize child development.

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An antidote to a paper warning you for wifi (and other examples of junk science)

I really like science, I like the self-correcting part of science even more.

Check this paper that was published by Sage and Burgio earlier this year:

Mobile phones and other wireless devices that produce electromagnetic fields (EMF) and pulsed radiofrequency radiation (RFR) are widely documented to cause potentially harmful health impacts that can be detrimental to young people. New epigenetic studies are profiled in this review to account for some neurodevelopmental and neurobehavioral changes due to exposure to wireless technologies. Symptoms of retarded memory, learning, cognition, attention, and behavioral problems have been reported in numerous studies and are similarly manifested in autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorders, as a result of EMF and RFR exposures where both epigenetic drivers and genetic (DNA) damage are likely contributors. Technology benefits can be realized by adopting wired devices for education to avoid health risk and promote academic achievement.

Sounds pretty alarming, no? Should we worry? Well, no.

The respected journal Child Development recently published a commentary that attributed a number of negative health consequences to RF radiation, from cancer to infertility and even autism (Sage Burgio, 2017). It is our view that this piece has potential to cause serious harm and should never have been published. But how do we justify such damning verdict? In considering our responses, we
realized that this case raised more general issues about distinguishing scientically valid from invalid views when evaluating environmental impacts on physical and psychological health, and we offer here some more general guidelines for editors and reviewers who may be confronted with similar issues. As shown in Table 1, we identify seven questions that can be asked about causal claims, using the Sage and Burgio (2017) article to illustrate these.
That’s right David Grimes and Dorothy Bischop took a closer look to the alarming article, and well…

Abstract of the paper by David Grimes and Dorothy Bischop that can be downloaded here:

Exposure to nonionizing radiation used in wireless communication remains a contentious topic in the public mindwhile the overwhelming scientic evidence to date suggests that microwave and radio frequencies used in modern communications are safe, public apprehension remains considerable. A recent article in Child Development has caused concern by alleging a causative connection between nonionizing radiation and a host of conditions, including autism and cancer. This commentary outlines why these claims are devoid of merit, and why they should not have been given a scientic veneer of legitimacy. The commentary also outlines some hallmarks of potentially dubious science, with the hope that authors, reviewers, and editors might be better able to avoid suspect scientic claims.

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Is learning a mother tongue an universal process?

This is a rather fascinating story about specialists in language development in children who studied a traditional population in the Bolivian Amazon, the Tsimane. What makes this group so interesting is that they, on average, spent less than one minute per hour talking to children under the age of four. This is up to ten times less than for children of the same age in industrialized countries. While the group of children that has been observed is rather small, the study does raise interesting questions. What does this mean for how what we think to know about learning our mother tongue?

From the press release:

In all human cultures, it takes little effort for children to learn the language(s) spoken by those around them. Although this process has fascinated several generations of specialists, it remains poorly understood. Most theories are based on the study of a small number of cultures, mainly in industrialized countries like the United States or France, where schooling is widespread and family size rather small.

Specialists on this subject have studied a population of forager-horticulturists from the Bolivian Amazon, the Tsimane. Thanks to a collaboration with anthropologists with specialist knowledge of this ethnic group, they enjoyed access to a unique database. From 2002 to 2005, the members of the Tsimane project visited groups of people in their homes at different times of the day. During their observations, they noted what each person present was doing, and with whom. This study, conducted in six representative villages, included nearly a thousand Tsimane.

Based on these observations, language development specialists found that, for all speakers combined, the time spent talking to a child under the age of four was less than one minute per hour. This is four times less than estimates for older people present at the same time and place[3]. And up to ten times less than for young children in Western countries, according to estimates from previous studies.

Although mothers are the ones who speak to their child most often, as in our culture, they do so much less frequently. After the age of three, the majority of words spoken to young children come from other children, usually their siblings (the Tsimane have five on average, whereas French and American children have on average one sibling).

These results thus reveal wide intercultural variation in the linguistic experiences of young children. In developed countries, however, the development of language in children is correlated with the words spoken directly to him or her by adults, and not with the other words the child has heard. Is this correlation universal? Tsimane children grow up in a rich social world: at any moment, they will be surrounded by eight people on average. Do the conversations they hear, which take up around ten minutes per hour, contribute to their learning? Research is currently continuing on the ground: by recording the words spoken to Tsimane children, and those that they utter, the researchers hope to answer these questions.

Notes:

[1] Or Chimane.

[2] Within the Labex IAST (Institute for Advanced Study in Toulouse).

[3] Only when children reach the 8-11 age group are they spoken to more or less as often as adults.

[4] Comparison with the six other publications in the literature that focus on estimating the frequency of verbal interactions with young children in different cultures.

Abstract of the study:

This article provides an estimation of how frequently, and from whom, children aged 0–11 years (Ns between 9 and 24) receive one-on-one verbal input among Tsimane forager-horticulturalists of lowland Bolivia. Analyses of systematic daytime behavioral observations reveal < 1 min per daylight hour is spent talking to children younger than 4 years of age, which is 4 times less than estimates for others present at the same time and place. Adults provide a majority of the input at 0–3 years of age but not afterward. When integrated with previous work, these results reveal large cross-cultural variation in the linguistic experiences provided to young children. Consideration of more diverse human populations is necessary to build generalizable theories of language acquisition.

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