Monday, February 13, 2012

The problem with studies on school kids

Pam Sorooshian is an unschooling mom of three young adults, and also teaches college-level economics. Here is something she's written about a new study on video games. The commentary on methodology and controls, and the fact that they're looking at schooled kids, applies to many studies.

Not all "wisdom" and research applies to unschoolers (because of their relationships with their parents) or to homeschoolers (if they don't have the strict schedule school kids do).

A new study - once again the big caveat is that this study is NOT done on
unschoolers. It is presented as a negative - the big point seems to be that
for about 10 percent of players playing videogames in some way leads to,
"...some serious problems -- including depression, anxiety, social phobias
and lower school performance -- seemed to be outcomes of their pathological

However, it is interesting that they aren't claiming that it is a lot of
play time that is the problem, it is something about those kids...that's
about as far as they go in the article, I don't know if the actual study
looks more careful at the characteristics of the kids who develop problems.

They seem to be making the claim that it is definitely the videogame
playing that is the cause of the problems for about 1 out of 10 players,
but I don't see how they can tell that from the study unless they have
controlled for things like the kind of relationship they have with their
parents, how accessible and supportive are the parents, the kind of home
life they have, and so on.

Unschoolers are close enough to our kids so that we will know if a kid is
happily playing a lot of videogames because they LOVE playing videogames
versus a kid who is depressed, withdrawn, anxious, or socially phobic. The
same applies to a kid who watches a lot of television.

I think what they are probably finding is that a kid who is dealing with
family, school, peer, or identity issues that seem overwhelming to him,
might withdraw from parent and peer relationships and that withdrawal might
mean he plays a lot of videogames. The withdrawal from relationships might
mean he isn't getting the help and support he needs and problems get worse
and worse. I don't think the research can legitimately conclude that there
is anything about the games, themselves, that cause the problems, or else
they are going to have to explain why 90 percent of the players are not

They use a lot of strong language about videogame playing and it is wrapped
up in scientific justification (pathological, addiction). I doubt it is the
games that are the problem for these kids any more than razors or knives
are the problem for kids who cut themselves.


After some discussion on studies and problems, at the Always Learning yahoogroup, Pam wrote:

Jo Isaac had written:
These researchers almost certainly set out with the mindset that pathological videogaming was a real phenomena.

Right - because that they even thought they could do the study at all
assumes that there is something identifiable to study. So they had to
define it in a way that made it identifiable. Which means they sort of made
it up first, then went out to prove it existed.

Still - I don't think it was necessarily that bad a study. I think it is
possible that 1 out of 10 kids playing videogames a whole lot are in some
sort of pain or having family or school or identify crises. Kids in schools
deal with a lot. Videogames offer a way to live for a while in a different
world where they can have power and control and just forget for a time
about their problems. Makes sense to me.

I didn't read the study, just the news report about the study. From the
news report, it seemed they concluded that the videogames caused 10 percent
of players to have serious problems. That, I doubt very much. I don't see
the logic...correlation is not causation and they really would have to have
a good explanation for exactly how the videogame playing hurt some kids so
much and others not at all.

They seemed to say that there was something susceptible in those kids -
they made it sound kind of random like you would never know if your kid
might be one of that 10 percent until it was too late. That could be used
as a justification to limit all kids just in case they were one of the weak
ones who would succumb to the pathological addiction.

So - the research itself might be useful - I'm doubting that they can
conclude what they did from it. I have nothing to point to - this is just
my personal guess...but I think videogames are just really super good at
helping a kid forget his real-world problems and so kids with extensive
real-world problems are drawn to playing a lot. (Along with a lot of other
people who also love playing even though they aren't avoiding problems,
just having a load of fun.)

The researchers probably tried to control for differences between the kids
- using measurable control variables. They'd likely use grades in school
for example. But they couldn't have measured whether a kid was gay and
agonizing over coming out. They couldn't measure whether a kid's parents
were belittling and dismissive. They couldn't measure whether a kid is
developmentally not ready for whatever is going in school and feeling
stupid about it, they couldn't measure whether the child's father is cold
and distant or the mother harsh or rigid in her demands. They couldn't
measure if the child is being abused by a parent or relative or older
student or teacher. And on and on. They couldn't measure if the kid feels
pushed around and stressed and not good enough and fearful and hurt and
dumb and frustrated and angry. And there is no way they could tell if any
of these things that they couldn't measure were what was leading to the
problems the child was having - and the reason why the child liked to spend
a lot of time playing videogames.


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