A Very Convenient Dark Path
Protecting children from the intellectually and socially corrosive effects of electronic devices
Child-rearing is not something that I am prone to discuss usually ever. I do not have them, and what’s more, I never wanted them. However, there are some basic universal truths about child-rearing that people are either willfully ignorant of, or they really are so tuned out that they are missing some dramatic dangers that need to be discussed. Therefore, I find it necessary to write this post.
There are a lot of aspects that need to be considered, and there are many factors that feed into the screen time that children get. However, as easy as it is to quiet a child with something dancing around on a screen, and how much time that infuses back into a parent’s day, it can have long-term detrimental effects on a child’s brain. This is something that is ongoing in terms of research, however, there are things that we need to pay attention to.
The first thing would be that executives in the tech world will not give their children phones, tablets, or allow them screen time. This is quite telling on its own. I will often advise people to not listen to what a person says as a primary form of information gathering, but rather look at what they do. They know something that the general public doesn’t know, and they will act with that information in mind. It isn’t just conjecture on my part however, there have been former employees that have come out and said specifically that they know that social media and the services that they provide are addictive. They not only know this, but they were also designed to be so:
Kendall, CEO of time-management app Moment and former director of monetization for Facebook, told the hearing held by the House Committee on Energy and Commerce: "Tobacco companies initially just sought to make nicotine more potent. But eventually that wasn't enough to grow the business as fast as they wanted. And so they added sugar and menthol to cigarettes so you could hold the smoke in your lungs for longer periods, At Facebook, we added status updates, photo tagging, and likes."
During an interview on CBSN, Kendall told CBS News' Lana Zak that it all boils down to the social media giant's advertising-based business model, in which the "objective is to get more people to pay attention to your product and to pay attention longer each and every day."
Most young children are not on Facebook, but they do get put in front of YouTube a lot, and there is a much larger problem there that many parents are unaware of. YouTube has addressed some of this issue, but wherever there is an opportunity to exploit the algorithm, there will be very unscrupulous content farms that will do just that.
This comes in a few different flavors, and you might be wondering why I chose to write a post about this, and I will connect the dots in a bit. Let’s start with the algorithm content farms. These farms basically sprung up with a singular purpose in mind, and that is to find what the YouTube algorithm would promote, and shove as much of that content into videos as possible, even if the videos themselves were nonsensical, and disturbing, which many of them were.
Most of this sort of video has been scrubbed, but you can still find examples of it by doing specific searches, such as the example down below:
This is the problem with content farms, algorithm boosting, and inattentive parents. Leave a kid in front of YouTube with the autoplay option turned on, and the algorithm would funnel them down into watching that for hours on end. It’s nonsensical, there isn’t anything to be gleaned out of it, but the views based on the algorithm focusing on keywords, in this case the keywords are:
HULK VS HITLER Finger Family | Nursery Rhymes for Children | 3D Animation
made a great deal of money. As I mentioned, a fair amount of this has been scrubbed, but there are new ways to exploit the algorithm, one of which I will get into closer to the end, and is the reason that I saw this post as necessary.
Screen time, especially a lot of it, changes the development of the brain. Seven hours or more can have detrimental effects on the frontal lobe, and in studies they are finding that the frontal lobe in children having this amount of screen time is thinner on brain scans. That’s a lot of screen time, and I am sure that many people reading this are thinking, “how many parents are really that irresponsible?” Many, but even two hours significantly impact how children’s brains work. Two hours of screen time a day lowered children’s scores on thinking and language tests:
Early data from a landmark National Institutes of Health (NIH) study that began in 2018 indicates that children who spent more than two hours a day on screen-time activities scored lower on language and thinking tests, and some children with more than seven hours a day of screen time experienced thinning of the brain’s cortex, the area of the brain related to critical thinking and reasoning.
“We’re not sure what this data means yet, but what we can hypothesize is that screens could inhibit certain aspects of a child’s development by narrowing their focus of interest and limiting their other means of exploration and learning,” says Dr. Jennifer F. Cross, attending pediatrician and a developmental and behavioral pediatrics expert at NewYork-Presbyterian Komansky Children’s Hospital. “If young children spend most of their time engaging with an iPad, smartphone, or the television, all of which are highly entertaining, it can be hard to get them engaged in non-electronic activities, such as playing with toys to foster imagination and creativity, exploring outdoors, and playing with other children to develop appropriate social skills. Interacting almost exclusively with screens would be like working out only your arm muscles and nothing else. You would have really strong arm muscles, but at the expense of overall fitness.”
Effectively it removes the child’s ability to communicate, and innovate. There is no imagination when screen time is what they sink their concentration into. I am much more concerned however, with what it means long term.
Psychopathy affects the frontal lobes, and being psychopathic I am well aware of what that means, and the challenges that can come from it. It makes impulse control an issue, it makes delay of gratification an issue, it changes how I interact with people, and I lack emotional empathy entirely.
Being psychopathic means that I have always been wired as I am, and I have greatly reduced emotional experience in the world. While there are things that can be difficult to implement in my life, such as cognitive empathy, my brain has certain aspects in place that make for the way my brain works to be fully functional, for me. Everything in how my brain was formed is complementary to what it lacks. This is one of the reasons that many evolutionary biologists and psychologists have stated that psychopathy is a genetic difference, not a disorder.
It's tempting to think of psychopathy as a kind of aberrant mental condition, but several studies suggest that it may be an evolutionary strategy. A study compared the genetic profiles of psychopaths with individuals who were more likely to have children younger and more frequently and found significant overlap. This suggests that the qualities that bring about psychopathy are also qualities that encourage more frequent reproduction, making psychopathy an advantageous strategy.
Why bring this up? I bring it up because if my brain is wired the way that it is because psychopathy evolved, it did so over time, and did so supporting the things that made how I think work, and weeding out things that made it a detriment. It took many generations for this to happen and likely began as soon as humans did. Thus there is a mutated oxytocin receptor, thus there is diminished activity in the frontal lobes, thus emotions are missing or greatly turned down in volume, thus I am a functional person.
That isn’t what’s happening with children. Instead, they are experiencing a rapid change in how their brain is functioning, and these changes are in contrast to many aspects that are both hardwired, and not changing.
The systems in the brain being affected by this are very important to protect the development of a fully functional human being. It fosters relationships between people, and it makes for the building blocks of many relationships in neurotypicals. Only some of these systems are being neutered, and others will remain online and fully functional, directly contradicting the changes that screen time has fostered. ‘
Children will have a lowered ability to communicate. They will have shorter attention spans. They will be unable to delay gratification or turn away from impulses. They are not learning how to cope with emotion, rejection, imagination, or restriction. They are being fed immediate payoffs for what they want, and they are being removed from human interaction.
Imagine what this person as an adult looks like. They aren’t going to have meaningful connections with others, but in order to survive and to be happy, their brain literally requires it. They will be unable to predict the consequences of their behavior, which is a problem in young people anyway due to their brain development, but this may be cementing it as a lifelong inability. They will be unable to speak to others in order to have those meaningful connections. They are basically being built into a prison of their parents' creation. They are being crippled before they have a chance to run as individuals.
I get it, it’s addicts raising addicts. Parents are just as addicted to online interaction as their children are. They have been primed to respond to interaction, upvotes, reactions, and attention. It is obvious the damage that it is doing to humans as a whole, and even though people realize that they are addicted, they can’t or won’t do anything to cease engagement. These companies are dependent on that, and they do not care what it does to you as a human being. You are nothing but a number.
These people have their own struggles in terms of human interaction in the real world. They have a reduced ability to handle stress outside of their addiction. This is why you see people glued to their phones in the most irresponsible ways, such as walking right into traffic because they are too focused on their screen to notice.
Now this addict has a child, and that child requires things. What do children do when they want things? They make noise, and annoying noise very loudly to boot. This is one of the many reasons that I do not have children, I don’t like that aspect, and I know that it is part of it. There is no avoiding children’s means of communication, and I am someone that wants to be able to do what I want to do, when I want to do it. If there was a kid screaming in the background while I wrote this post, I would not be happy.
However, as much as I like my quiet, and my ability to do what I want, I am not addicted to anything. I do not know what that is like, but based on my observations of addicts, I don’t imagine that interruptions to their indulgences of that addiction are going to be met with positive attention. I imagine annoyance would be much more common of a response. The easiest fix? Sit a kid in front of their own screen so the parent can return to theirs. It can’t hurt that much, right?
I think that the answer to that is becoming more and more apparent that indeed it is very harmful to the brain, and healthy development of a child, but now we are going to get to the part that made me interested in writing this in the first place, and that is this particular content farm:
It claims that the site is under maintenance at the time that I am writing this, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t share with you some of their channels:
In fact, if you go to this page:
you can see just some of their channels that they are uploading content on. You might look at it and think, what’s the harm? They’re cake baking/decorating channels. What’s the concern there? Well, for one, and the most benign reason is that they aren’t going to show you how to bake any of the cakes in their thumbnails. This is a direct violation of YouTube’s thumbnail policy, and of course annoying to anyone that wants to learn how to make whatever they are advertising, but that’s not the real problem.
The real problem comes from what I spoke about above, and that is parents sitting their kids in front of YouTube videos in order to get a little peace and quiet for themselves. Many times parents are going to do this with their kids using headphones or earbuds, and if they glance over, their child is watching a pretty cake or dessert being created. What they aren’t hearing is the audio of these channels, and the audio is very strange.
This isn’t audio that is algorithmically created. It isn’t like the Hulk versus Hitler video above. This audio is intentionally worded, and the implications are not good. You see, this channel overlays stories in their videos. They may seem harmless at first, just poorly imagined stories, such as a young girl thwarting a bank robbery on her way to school, having a gun put to her head, her dodging it and taking it away from him, holding him there until he is arrested, describing it as a “fantastic experience”, and her only concern is not to be late for class when she is recounting her it to the police.
However, the longer you listen, the more strange the videos become. Most of them feature a young girl as the protagonist, and the stories demonstrate extremely questionable content. This is the partial transcript from one of them:
“Someone knocked on the front door. I opened it, and there was a strange tiny man standing there with a creepy smile on his face, and he smelled really good.
He said, “Hi, I’m Noah. I’m looking for your dad. Is he home?”
I replied, “No, he out there looking for a stupid job.” I was about to close the door in his face, when he suddenly pushed it back open. I screamed. I thought he was going to hurt me. He took off his glasses, and told me to stay calm. He looked a lot less intimidating without his glasses on, and his face was softer.
I said, “Okay, come on in.”
This is not something that children should be hearing. There are many examples of this. Stories titled, “I Found My Death Certificate Under My Bed”, or, “I Had To Fake Seizures To Stop My Mom From Cheating”.
Some stories speak about the protagonist having an abusive parent, and detail the abuse clearly. Other times, it’s about the protagonist finding out that her brother's girlfriend is in love with them, not him. There are multiple stories per video, and I could see the argument that it is possible that these videos are meant strictly for adults, but there is a problem with that. I listen to scary story narrations quite frequently, and remember vividly a time in recent history where the creators had to make a very clear delineation about their videos not being for kids, and being for adults only.
YouTube changed the rules on videos that were to be marketed to kids, and those included a lack of ads on them. This doesn’t serve content farms, so it makes much more sense for them to not age restrict videos, and allow them to be fed into the autoplay algorithm. You think your kids are watching wholesome cake videos, while in reality they are being taught to open the door to strangers and let them in.
This is one of many different types of videos out there that have extremely questionable content but look innocent on the surface. If these videos were meant for adults only, they would be marked that way, but they are not. They are not age-restricted at all, which means that they are intentionally leaving these stories open to children.
Content farms have no interest in offering useful information to anyone. They just want engagement, which is why they have thirty or more channels that are put up. Five Minute Crafts, So Yummy, and Troom Troom, all offer videos that are nonsensical, and sometimes damaging or dangerous. There are many occasions of kids getting hurt trying to replicate some of their so-called “life hacks”. These farms are in countries that won’t shut them down and has no concern whatsoever about you, or your child’s medical bills.
There are a lot of reasons to say that parking a kid in front of a screen is a bad idea. It malforms their concept of the world, and their ability to intellectually engage in it in a productive manner. It also is going to hamper them in school later on. However, it also is going to have profound developmental effects on their ability to emotionally cope, and find meaningful connections. This is both going to be from not connecting with actual friends when they are young, but also the lack of connection to their own tuned-out parents.
Tech giants won’t let their kids have electronics, but they are fine with your kids having them. That alone should be something to note and be concerned with. Add to that mix the brain damage, and the predatory nature of many people that are reaching your children, and it is something to reevaluate if it is something that you do, or you know someone else that does this.
Being addicted to things sucks, I cognitively get that. However, being addicted to something, and then handing that thing to a kid that cannot turn away from it because it is specifically tuned to keep them in place is a really terrible thing to do to them. You are their only advocate, and you are responsible for what they are exposed to. Not being the one that keeps them from watching Hulk versus Hitler, or learning about a kid hiding in a closet to keep her mother from beating her with a chair, is a different form of abuse in my estimation.
I don’t think that we should be leaning into the rapid changing of how the human mind works. It isn’t able to account for these changes fast enough, and it makes those changes to be out of balance. It isn’t how things are supposed to go, and it is more or less an experiment in the process of human development that does not appear to be going well. Evolution and changes do occur, but they occur over a long-term period to allow for the adaptations to be accounted for across the board. This is more like a developmental head injury. It is impossible to know how it will turn out for each individual child, but in no way is it going to be good for any of them.