Cell Phone Snark and Hooey

Ah, Facebook, bringer of all things controversial. It’s where I stumbled across this article, which, frankly, seemed so silly that I would normally have ignore it, except that apparently the APA isn’t ignoring it. And it was on Time.com. You know Time Magazine, that bastion of factual information and intelligent writing… or maybe I’m dating myself.

Anyway, the premise of the article is that mom and dad spend too much time on their phones when they should be hanging out with junior, and that frequent cell usage makes you a worse parent. It’s hard to take parenting advice from a journalist whose opening sentence (for Time!) ends in a dangling preposition, but there is a valid point to be made here. According to the article, researchers from Boston University took to fast-food restaurants and observed the interactions of parents and children.

To study the effect of smartphones, Radesky and her colleagues sent in undercover investigators to surreptitiously observe any adult-child grouping with more than one youngster as they ate at a fast-food restaurant. The observers recorded the behavior of both the adults and the children in 55 such groupings, as well as how frequently the adults used their smartphones.”

So, basically, they snuck around on people, recorded their behavior without permission, and then published it in this study. I’m not sure what the ethics are on that, but I can tell you I’ll be nicer to my kids the next time we hit up McDonald’s. Also, the ‘undercover investigators’ bit makes me leery. Why weren’t Radesky and her colleagues doing the observing? The article continues:

“The data provided an unvarnished look at how absorbed many parents were by their devices. One child reached over in an attempt to lift his mother’s face while she looked down at a tablet, but to no avail. Another mother kicked her child under the table in response to the child’s various attempts to get her attention while she looked at her phone. A father responded in curt and irritated tones to his children’s escalating efforts to tear him away from his device.”

Here’s the thing – it takes a lot more than Candy Crush to get a woman to kick her child. This is one of those chicken and egg situations. Do cell phones make people ignore their children, or do people who ignore their children use cell phones? Just this evening I was sitting on my front step with, yes, my phone, reading an article. My four year old was building with bricks nearby. He would call me, and I would look up and interact with him, then go back to my phone. It’s easy to point to cell phones as the reason for bad parenting. It’s much harder to address the character flaws – laziness, selfishness, lack of self-control, a temper – that are the real issue. But of course, the ‘researchers’ weren’t finished.

“In light of the data, Radesky is working with the American Academy of Pediatrics to develop some guidelines for the smart smartphone use in front of the kids — just as the academy has advice for parents on TV viewing.”

Because of course the answer to every problem is intervention and rules set by professionals. One rather sneaky study, with a very small sample group, and no background information on the subjects, seems shaky ground to make these vast claims. I’m not saying parents should choose cell phones over their children! For heaven’s sake, I’m the first one to say that we should all go back to the analog age. I’m saying that we’ve got to stop grabbing at what’s easy if we want what’s best. It’s called “ignoratio elenchi” – the argument addresses the issue, but it still isn’t logically valid. It’s more frequently known as ‘missing the point’. My smart phone doesn’t make me a good or a bad parent. My smart phone isn’t the bad guy. As I’ve already mentioned, there is a valid point to be made here. I just think we’re missing it.

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One thought on “Cell Phone Snark and Hooey

  1. Yep! “Ignoratio elenchi – the argument addresses the issue, but it still isn’t logically valid. It’s more frequently known as ‘missing the point’.”

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