Switched-on iPad infants put to the test

A TODDLER sits with a magazine in front of her, sliding her fingers across the pages then waiting expectantly for them to transform at her touch. It is clear from the video that she believes the magazine is an iPad.
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The next part of the YouTube clip shows the girl comfortably playing with an actual iPad. It ends with a message from the girl’s mother: ”For my one-year-old daughter a magazine is an iPad that does not work.”

For infant and child development psychologist Dr Jordy Kaufman, the YouTube video’s message is not surprising. But what he did find interesting was the strong reaction people had to it.

”The comments were very telling in terms of the feelings people have towards kids using touchscreen devices,” he says. ”Lots of people think it’s really funny, really cool. And there’s a lot of people who get the heebie-jeebies from it and think, ‘What are we doing to our kids?’.”

Dr Kaufman says the effects on children’s brain development from iPads are still largely unknown.

At a time when the popularity of touchscreen apps targeting infants and toddlers is exploding, Dr Kaufman, founder and director of the Swinburne Baby Lab, decided it was time that specific research was done.

So far, most research and warnings concerning children’s use of iPads has been based on research involving TV viewing. ”There is enough research showing television, especially some types of television, can have a detrimental effect on children,” Dr Kaufman says. ”But to assume it’s bad for all sorts of vices seems to be painting with an overly broad stroke.”

Dr Kaufman says the research, which has so far tested 46 children aged four to six, involves examining their attention and problem-solving capabilities after using an iPad compared with using real toys. For example, as part of the study, children are being asked to solve a problem using a wooden model. They are also asked to solve the same problem using an iPad app. After they have played, they are given a test to assess their attention.

Dr Kaufman also gets children to participate in drawing, colouring and block building, both physically and on iPads. Preliminary findings have shown that for some children, touchscreens appear to motivate and enhance learning rather than hinder it.

Dr Kaufman also said results were indicating that calm, creative activities on the touchscreen, such as painting, were similar to their ”real world” counterparts in that they ”do not seem to adversely affect children’s behaviour or attention in the short term”.

He hopes the study will help parents make more informed choices. ”Technology is changing so quickly, and what we really have to try to do from a science and societal perspective is try to have the research not lag too far behind that.”

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Banks’ $2 fee has big effect

Australians have banking economists stumped.AUSTRALIANS have banking economists stumped.
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They thought they knew what we would do when in 2009 the Reserve Bank outlawed largely hidden payments between financial institutions that were usually passed on to us as account-keeping fees whenever we used a so-called ”foreign” teller machine owned by another bank.

They thought we would do nothing.

In place of the indirect fees were direct fees in which the owner of each foreign ATM took the money directly from our accounts each time we made a foreign withdrawal.

But the size of the charge, typically two dollars, didn’t change. All of the economic models – including the Reserve Bank’s own model – suggested we would use ATMs pretty much as we had before. The incentives were much as they had been.

Instead withdrawals from foreign machines dived from around half of all ATM withdrawals to just 40 per cent. Among senior citizens the proportion fell to less than 10 per cent. The group the Reserve Bank had thought would be the least able to shop around turned out to be the keenest to drive across entire suburbs to avoid the two-dollar charge.

A Reserve Bank study released yesterday says it’s behaviour that ”cannot be accounted for by the model of ATM fees presented in this or any other existing paper”.

To work out why, it has turned to research on retailing and a finding that point-of-sale displays can change purchasing decisions even when they convey no new information.

It says one of the reforms it introduced in 2009 was effectively a ”point-of-sale prompt”. Since then every foreign user attempting to complete a transaction has been presented with a message reminding them of the fee and asking them to press a button to either continue or cancel. An astonishing 10 per cent of us confess to cancelling at least once in the past month.

The RBA’s tentative conclusion is that it is not the fee that is frightening us, it is being continually told about it.

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Bully campaign brings film to younger viewers

Lee Hirsch’s film Bully does not make for easy viewing.LEE Hirsch knows the subject matter of his documentary Bully all too well. “I was bullied as a kid,” says the 40-year-old New Yorker, in town for the film festival. “It was gangs of guys who’d make it their sport to get at me every day before I got home from school.”
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In a sense there is nothing special about that; this year, 13 million kids in the US will be bullied in one way or another. And for many of them, as for him, the worst thing about it will be the inability of the victim to let the people around them understand what’s going on.

“I remember so well not being able to get across what happens, and eventually you start to internalise it and shut down and not talk about it,” he says. “My dad is not a bad father but he’s 93 and fought in World War 2 and his attitude was just, like, ‘Man up’, you know. He wouldn’t come and fight with me, which I think is what I wanted.”

Hirsch unashamedly sees his film as a piece of agit prop, a much-needed weapon in the war on bullying. The film has extended outwards into a broad-ranging campaign under the umbrella of thebullyproject南京夜网. More than 125,000 kids have seen it in the States, a figure he hopes to triple in the next few months.

But Bully has been the subject of a campaign too. Earlier this year, the Motion Picture Association of America gave it an R rating on account of its language; kids under 18 could only see it in the company of a parent or guardian. After an online campaign that gathered more than 500,000 signatures and the support of Ellen de Generes and Meryl Streep, and after Hirsch cut a few curse words, the MPAA reclassified it as PG13.

“On one level it was because people felt the film, the story, was important, but also I think they were really sick and tired of that hypocritical guidance from the MPAA that said violence is fine, treating women badly is fine too,” Hirsch says. “You know The Hunger Games, which is about teenagers getting murdered, got a PG13. It just kind of rallied everybody.”

Not that Bully makes for easy viewing. The treatment meted out to young Alex Libby in particular is appalling — so much so that Hirsch eventually showed footage of what was happening to Alex to his parents and his school because he feared for his life.

There’s a happy ending to this story, though. “Alex is the greatest miracle to me in the world,” Hirsch says. “He’s really had a shine since the movie came out. He’s become so confident and outgoing and funny. He’s an activist and he speaks to thousands of kids. He makes you feel that change is possible.”

Bully screens at the Melbourne International Film Festival tonight and on Sunday and Tuesday, and is on general release from August 23.

■ The Age is a festival sponsor.

Visit the MIFF website for session details or to purchase tickets

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Eating for two during pregnancy a recipe for obesity, reveals study

ABOUT 50 per cent of women in Australia are overweight or obese when they fall pregnant, and researchers have found the diet of those women gets progressively worse during pregnancy and is especially poor after giving birth.
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The University of Adelaide study of nearly 300 overweight or obese women – defined as those with a body mass index of more than 25 – is the first to examine the diets of pregnant and overweight women until after birth.

The lead author, Lisa Moran, said, while some women suffered from morning sickness and food aversion, more than three quarters of the women entered the study in their second trimester, by which time those ailments usually had passed.

”It may be that for some women morning sickness doesn’t resolve as quickly,” said Dr Moran, from the university’s medical research centre, the Robinson Institute. ”But some women may still feel that pregnancy is the one time where they can relax some of their previous eating habits, and the idea of eating for two does seem to still resonate.”

Diet might also depend on family, friends and culture.

Participants completed a food frequency survey at four points throughout the study, published in the International Journal of Obesity, the last four months after birth. Thirty per cent had a poor diet at the start, but this jumped to nearly half after birth, with fruit, vegetable and dairy intake all poor. Energy intake from added sugars increased after birth, as did alcohol consumption.

More than 40 per cent did not consume enough iron or calcium while pregnant. Diet was also poorer as social disadvantage increased, and some women may have deliberately avoided meat and seafood because of bacteria fears.

Dr Moran said some health professionals may be reluctant to provide dietary advice that was too restrictive because they feared some might take it ”to the extreme of dieting – something we don’t want”.

But Kyra Sim, from the Boden Institute of Obesity, Nutrition, Exercise and Eating at Sydney University, said it was most important that women ensured they were healthy before attempting to get pregnant.

”While women may make changes when first getting pregnant to improve their health, we know maintaining those changes is the hardest,” Dr Kim said.

”We also know women tend to gain weight as they get older and are falling pregnant later, which could also be a factor.”

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