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Emerson College
Overdependence on Smart Devices of Children
under the Age of 12
Introducing QT as a Solution to Promote Healthy Media Consumption Patterns
Eileen Louissaint, Mel Zianne Teo, Nele Rieve
GM603 - Behavioral Economics
Professor Nejem Raheem
04/02/2015
  ii	
  
Table of Contents
1. Introduction 1
2. Background Section 2
3. Behavioral Economics 6
1. Current Situation 7
2. Intervention 9
1. Obstacles 9
2. Opportunities 10
4. Discussion of Proposed Intervention 10
5. Bibliography iii
6. Appendix v
  1	
  
1. Introduction
Today’s youth are characterized as digital natives—they are born into a world where the
use of digital technologies such as computers, video games, digital music players, video cams,
cell phones and so on, is part of their daily lives. Due to innovations such as touchscreens that
allow easier interaction, these technologies are becoming increasingly accessible by younger
children (Rideout, 2013). While there are many benefits to the use of these devices, the risks of
excessive use at young ages tend to be neglected despite proven major impacts on the child’s
development and health. Research shows that parents often are uncertain about associated risks
and tend to overestimate the positive effect that digital technologies might have. This uncertainty
paired with the misconception about its role, due to rapid and unprecedented advances in
technology, contribute to the excessive use of technology of today’s youth.
The purpose of our research is to discover insights behind parental motives linked to the
overdependence on technology by children under the age of 12, in order to develop an
intervention that promotes the improvement of child health, development, learning capabilities
and social skills by informing parents of the risks attributed to overdependence on technology
during key developmental ages.
This paper is structured into three parts: a background section, a section about behavioral
economics, and a section about the proposed intervention. The background section presents
findings from both primary and secondary research on digital technology use among young
children, the impact of excessive use at a young age, and the current digital technology
consumption habits of parents and children. As part of the primary research, point-of-view
interviews were conducted with parents and children. The behavioral economics section
addresses possible explanations for the current behavior of both parents and children and
  2	
  
examines obstacles and opportunities which we must be aware of when framing our intervention.
Finally, the proposed intervention section will discuss our intervention derived from the key
insights extracted from our interviews and secondary research.
2. Background
While digital technology can be helpful to children, the malleability of the brain during
early developmental stages are issues of concern that have sparked the growing research today
on technology. Our secondary research reveals the impacts of the excessive use of digital
technology at a young age, the effects of technology on relationships, the adequate amount of
digital technology each day, and current solutions communicated by child specialists to form
healthy consumption habits (Christianakis, 2002).
Children in developed countries have received the epithet, “digital natives” by Marc
Prensky (2001). Having grown up with digital technologies and all the other toys and tools of the
digital age as the norm, brains think and process information differently than before. According
to a national study “Parenting in the age of digital technology” (2013), 75 percent of children age
8 and under have had access to some type of smart mobile device at home in 2013, compared to
52 percent in 2011. This research further showed that 72 percent of age 8 and under and 38
percent of children under 2 have used these devices to play games, watch videos or use apps. The
internet enhances the human ability to scan information at a more rapid and efficient pace,
whereas, in the past the popularity of reading physical books allowed the brain to practice
focusing and imagination. In the pre-digital world, children had to use their imagination and
exercise sensory and motor skills to amuse themselves through “traditional ways of play” such as
outdoor activities, board games, puzzles, and so on, the advances in technology have changed
structures significantly (Rowan, 2013).
  3	
  
As the use of technology increases, studies have correlated it to the rise of physical,
psychological and behavior disorders including child obesity, diabetes, ADHD, autism spectrum
disorders, coordination disorders, developmental delays, speech disorders, learning difficulties,
sensory-processing disorders, anxiety, depression, and sleep disorders (Phillips, 2013). “Physical
therapists are now seeing patients as young as eight years old with symptoms of RSI (Repetitive
Stress Injury), a trend that seems to be increasing over time,” threatening the health of children
that indulge in smart devices for long hours (Kim, 2010).
In the earliest stages, children are learning to “focus their vision, reach out, explore” and
develop “memory, language, thinking, and reasoning” (Center for Disease Control and
Prevention, 2014). These early stages in child development contribute greatly to life-bearing
skills which they will take with them into adolescence such as building stronger, friendships and
peer relationships (Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 2014), independence from the
parents and family, and a sense of self within the world.
The use of technology displays use of the automatic and reflective systems of the brain.
The automatic system is unconscious and commonly associated with instinct and rapid decisions,
while the reflective system requires more concentration for thorough and analytical thought
process. The hyperactive nature of fast-paced media disrupts the ability to concentrate and
completely comprehend material (Carr, 2010). The inability to digest information in a systematic
behavior, such as the reflective system, suggests a disconnect between the parallel processing of
the two systems and the patience to train the automatic system to reference cognitive mapping in
complex activities such as school work, social settings, and assuming independence—all of
which children begin developing at early stages.
  4	
  
Marjorie Hogan, MD, FAAP, co-author of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)
“Children, Adolescents and the Media” policy suggests the approach to achieving a healthy
“media diet” requires the involvement of parents, educators and pediatricians in media education
in order to guide children and adolescents towards healthier media consumption habits (Hogan,
2013). Additionally, parents can remove media devices from bedrooms and implement curfews
for media devices (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2013).
Parents Perspective
Parents today lacked the availability of advanced digital technology that children have
easy access to today. Since childhood experiences often influence the way parents bring up their
own child, this lack of technology in the parents’ upbringing could result in uncertainty in terms
of appropriate use of digital technologies (Plowman, McPake, & Stephen, 2008). Marketing of
many video and software products for young children intensifies this uncertainty as it makes the
parents believe that these products are beneficial and necessary for their child’s educational
success (Rose, Viitrup, & Leveridge, 2013). Even though parents are concerned about possible
effects that digital technologies could have on their child, they still consider those technologies
as safe if the use is moderated and supervised to a certain extent (Livingstone & Helsper, 2008;
Plowman et al., 2008).
Furthermore, they tend to attribute more value to the educational and social advantages of
digital technology use than to negative impacts (Livingstone et al., 2008; Moore, 2015). Parents
seek to achieve a balance in their child’s activities. They try to maximize mostly education-
related advantages while minimizing disadvantages by moderating their child’s digital
technology use. Methods of parental mediation include rulemaking, restrictions, supervision and
time limits (Plowman et al., 2008; Plowman, McPake, & Stephen, 2013; Livingstone et al., 2008;
  5	
  
Moore, 2015). However, several factors, such as the proliferation of digital technologies in the
home, the complexity of these technologies that oftentimes surpasses the digital knowledge of
parents, and the tendency of young children to copy their parents’ behavior, hinder the
implementation of these regulation efforts (Barreto & Adams, 2011; Livingstone et al., 2008;
Anand & Krosnick, 2005). According to Euromonitor International (2013), adult users spend at
least 15 hours online per week (Appendix B1). Gordon (2007) highlighted that although parents
are a huge influence in determining the amount of time their children spent online, they are often
heavy media users themselves: “parents surreptitiously checking BlackBerrys during their
children’s concerts,” making them less able to supervise their children as closely as they would
otherwise. Furthermore, for parents, their child’s technology is a tool to diversify activities, a
reward method and a way of occupying children to gain time to do chores (Moore, 2015;
Wartella, Rideout, Lauricella, & Connell, 2013). However, a national study on Parenting in the
Age of Digital Technology (Wartella et al., 2013) revealed that the majority of participating
parents think that mobile devices did not make parenting easier mainly due to risks associated
with technology use.
Children’s Perspective
While it is important to understand the parent’s perspective regarding this study, it is equally
vital to incorporate the views of the children to ensure its comprehensiveness.
Elgene is a 6-year old boy that lives in the urban city, Singapore. He has been exposed to
smart devices since the age of two (Appendix A2). Elgene particularly enjoys his iPad because
he can play his favorite games “Angry Birds” and “Thomas & Friends” on the device. When the
interviewer suggested for him to go outdoors to play in the yard, Elgene refused. Additionally,
Elgene expressed how he preferred the iPad over traditional toys as it supports higher
  6	
  
interactivity. The child’s preference for staying online instead of going outdoors is further
supported by a study conducted by Ika Erwina (2013) on the activities of 6–17 year olds, with
almost half (46%) stating they would rather spend their time online over playing outside
(Appendix B2).
Elgene mentioned his mother had an iPad, hinting how parents’ behavior can serve as a
model of learning for their children (Gordon, 2007). Therefore, the best way to begin altering
children’s behavior is to start from the parents.
3. Behavioral Economics
Traditional economic theory (Simon, 1995; Slovic, 1995) implies that people are
economic men, homo economicus (sing.), who make economic and ergo rational decisions in
order to maximize utility. For a choice to be rational, this economic man is assumed to be
completely informed about the range of choices, alternatives and their consequences, and to have
a stable system of revealed preferences. However, research on rational decisionmaking suggest
that people use an heuristic approach to decisionmaking, suggesting that people do not always
make choices that reflect their values since they are not always well informed- revealing habitual
behavior and a tendency to follow drives (Strack & Deutsch, 2004). These boundedly rational
decision makers try “to attain some satisfactory, although not necessarily maximal, level of
achievement” (Slovic, 1995). They use heuristic principles to simplify the complex process of
decision making, especially in situations of uncertainty and are prone to biases (Tversky &
Kahneman, 1974). As parents and young children are considered ‘boundedly rational decision
makers’, this section analyzes the effects that heuristics and biases have on their behavior.
  7	
  
3.1. Current Situation
Availability Heuristic
According to Tversky (1974), people make judgements based on the “ease with which
instances or occurrences can be brought to mind”. This phenomenon is called availability.
Digital technology for children is often marketed in a way that focuses on benefits that children
can derive from using it, while neglecting negative impacts. Furthermore, as technology is
constantly evolving and new products are continuously put on the market, these innovations are
covered in the news and often presented as a must-have to aid in children’s learning
development. Due to the focus on benefits, they tend to be more available to parents than
possible negative effects. Therefore, they might not consider the overuse of digital technology as
a risk and therefore might not use it in an appropriate way. This heuristic also relates to the two
systems of the brain. Parents may rely on their automatic system to make a decision on the use of
technology and may not waste time and effort on using their reflective system to completely
analyze this decision and consider disadvantages.
Anchoring Heuristic
The phenomenon of anchoring postulates that “in many situations people estimate an
unknown value by starting from some initial value which is then adjusted to yield a final answer”
(Tversky 1974). Since the majority of parents did not grow up with the range of technology that
is available to children today, they have no reference point in terms of time limits from their own
upbringing that they can use to make judgments for the amount of time that children should
spend on digital technology. Therefore, they might look for a reference point in either their own
behavior or in the behavior of peers. As the amount of time spent on technology that is
considered healthy differs between young children and adults, parents might use wrong starting
  8	
  
point for their judgements, therefore, allow an overuse without being aware of surpassing the
healthy time limits. Children might also use the anchoring heuristic for their judgements. As
children mimic the behavior of their parents, they might use the time that their parents spend on
technology as a reference point for their own use. When they see their parents use technology for
a long period of time, they might assume that they can spend the same amount on time on
technology, resulting in overuse.
Collective Conservatism (Bias) & Herding (Heuristic)
According to the collective conservatism bias and the herding heuristic, people tend to
follow leaders in a group and tend to stick to established norms (Kuran, 1987). The collective
conservatism bias builds on the herding heuristic. As children’s access to technology increases,
more and more children use digital technology. Therefore, parents see other parents giving their
children access to devices and might perceive that as adequate for their own children. As a result,
parents might then decide to give their own child access to the devices without further examining
choices and alternatives as they tend to follow leaders in their communities and adopt behavior
of other members. The use of technology amongst children has become a norm in society.
Therefore, parents might feel obligated to adhere to that norm and allow their child access to
technology without further knowledge on the amount of time that is considered appropriate.
Status Quo Bias
According to Kahneman, Knetsch, & Thaler (1991), the status quo bias suggests that
people have a “preference for the current state” and tend to remain to this status quo as “the
disadvantages of leaving it loom larger than advantages”. The status quo bias explains both the
parents and the children’s behavior in terms of technology use. Over time, both parties have
included digital technologies in their daily routines and its use has become a default option.
  9	
  
People tend to adhere to established norms in order to avoid effort that would be required to
choose an alternative to the default. Therefore, parents might rely on digital technology as a
primary activity for their child. The sames applies to children as the use of technology also might
be their default.
Optimism & Overconfidence (bias)
The optimism and overconfidence bias describe that people tend to overestimate the
probability of achieving an objective and tend to have a favourable attitude towards outcomes of
an event, the so called better-than-average effect (Clark & Friesen, 2009; Kuran, 1987). The
optimism and overconfidence bias come in play as well. Parents don’t think of their children as
part of the statistics and therefore don’t think the harmful statistics on tech devices will have
immediate harm on their child.
3.2. Intervention
Heuristics and biases not only explain the parents’ and children’s current behavior, they also help
identify possible obstacles and opportunities for our proposed intervention that is aimed at
changing behavior.
3.2.1. Obstacles
Since the use of technology has become the default option for children’s activities, overcoming
the status quo bias will be an obstacle for the implementation and effectiveness of our
intervention. As it requires effort on behalf of parents and children to consider and choose
alternatives over their established default option, it might pose a challenge to convince them to
change their current behavior. This relates to the bias of loss aversion and the endowment effect.
As according to the principles of loss aversion, the impact of losses are generally greater than the
impact of equivalent gains and as people therefore try to minimize the risk of losses more than
  10	
  
trying to maximize gains (Kahneman, Knetsch, & Thaler, 1991), it could be expected that the
loss both parents and children will feel when reducing the time spend on digital technology will
be more prevalent compared to what both parties can gain, such as more quality time as a family,
diversified activities for the child, and so on. Furthermore, the herding heuristic and collective
conservatism bias could present difficulties, as parents will still base their judgments on what
other people do and what the accepted norm is, as long as not everybody in their community is
changing behavior too.
3.2.2. Opportunities
As parents and children aren’t completely rational decision makers, they can be nudged to
overcome biases and heuristics. The heuristic approach to decision-making also gives room for
opportunities in terms of behavior change. While currently parents are using their own and peers’
technology use as reference point for their children’s technology use, a new anchor could be
developed. Furthermore, the availability heuristic can be seen as an opportunity as well. At the
moment, mostly examples of benefits readily come to mind of the parents. This could be shifted
to a more balanced availability of both benefits and negative effects of technology. Also, while
loss aversion might be a challenge for the implementation of our intervention, it can be overcome
by framing the perceived loss in a more positive way.
4. Discussion of Proposed Intervention
Quadruple T “QT”: Time to Talk Technology
Quadruple T (QT) stands for Time to Talk Technology. The QT program is geared
towards parents in order to assist them in establishing healthy media consumption habits within
the household. The program will be hosted by school districts in order to develop a camaraderie
between parents, teachers, and child specialists to support effective changes (Hogan, 2013).
  11	
  
Hogan (2013) and the American Academy of Pediatrics suggest ways in which the parents
involvement supports the adoption of healthy consumption habits or “media diets”, therefore, our
intervention focuses on the role of the parents with support of the primary educational system.
This program will provide a cohesive framework between home and school by detecting
all points which the child will engage with media. At the beginning of each year, schools will
host a “QT” seminar with the students’ parents to discuss the healthy habits which can be
established in the home, while also informing the parents how media is being used during the
school year on campus. The AAP encourages parents to actively participate in the children’s
media intake by engaging in the program with them while also discussing the values of the
particular segments. Supporting the anticipated success of our intervention, QT will feature a
smart device application “Hello QT” which parents will be required to download on their phones
as part of the child’s first assignment of the academic year in order to receive weekly progress
reports from the school. The app will include a parent and child version which will sync with the
most-used apps on one platform to monitor usage times, assist with app time management, and
encourage parents and children to engage in other activities once the media-usage timeframe is
complete. By creating a parent and child version of the app, this will encourage the adoption of
“media diets” by parents themselves in order to serve as examples for their children. Below we
will discuss how we will apply the NUDGEs framework in order to overcome obstacles this
proposed solution will need to be successfully implemented in the child’s daily lives with the
guidance of their parents.
Push notifications will appear on the screen of the smart devices when parents have
exceeded the advised time usage; acting as a prompt for them to rethink the cognitive biases of
some might deem technology as only beneficial for their children (i.e. education/learning). These
  12	
  
prompts will practice choice architecture where the statistics of children suffering from health
and development issues could be reflected as the content. This will nudge, understand mappings,
parents to understand the consequences of excess screen-time, thereby seeking to improve the
overall health and welfare of children (Whyte et al., 2012). Hence, overcoming the optimism and
overconfidence bias among parents that fail to recognize the harmful effects that these devices
have on their children.
In order to defeat parents’ perceived loss of trading the ease of giving their children smart
devices, the push notifications will focus on delivering feedback in a gain frame structure that
emphasizes the benefits such as staying below the time-limit to the parents to encourage call-to-
action. Thereby addressing the status-quo bias of parents that have tendency to stick with their
current tech habits. The AAP advises that children under the age of two years avoid watching
screen media, while children 3 to 18 years of age should be allowed two hours per day with
entertainment media. The app will impose time limits on the devices such that it ceases activity
when users exceed the stipulated time spent, making it a default—priming parents to adopt the
suggested alternatives. Users (both parents and children) will be rewarded with points each time
they keep within the advised screentime that are exchangeable for musicals, concerts as form of
incentives for parents, in order to offset the initial loss of giving up on technology and also to
have them break away from collective conservatism since they would benefit more from the
tangible gains as opposed to following the influence of their friends.
Feedback will be sought through the apps from parents from the educational meetings,
daily progress on their children and how they have maximized their time by replacing technology
with other engaging activities in their routines. This will allow them to understand the
implications of their actions which tackles the availability heuristic as it provides parents with a
  13	
  
more balanced perspective on the negative effects as compared to a biased opinion of what is
portrayed in the advertisements as mentioned earlier (John et al., 2009). Also, such feedback will
serve to provide parents with guide to establish their own reference point in making subsequent
judgments on the optimal amount of time their children should spend on technology and not
allude those based on their own prior knowledge or from their peers which can be limited
(anchoring heuristic).
We will use the following strategies to measure the success of our intervention: gathering
the number of parents who attend the QT Seminars hosted by the schools and the use Google
Analytics to monitor how many parents have registered for the app as well as their weekly usage
routines. We have also considered regular communication with our partners for the incentives
programs to inform our team of the number of redeemed “perks”. Lastly, it would be beneficial
to see how the use of this intervention improves children's’ health, development, learning
capabilities and social skills by soliciting the expertise of psychologists.
  iii	
  
5. Bibliography
Carr, N. (2010). Author Nicholas Carr: The Web Shatters Focus, Rewires Brains | WIRED Magazine.
http://www.wired.com/2010/05/ff_nicholas_carr/all/1.
American Academy of Pediatrics (2013). Children, Adolescents, and the Media. (2013). Pediatrics, 132(5), 958-
961.
Christianaki, M., (2002). Children, Technology, and Culture: The Impacts of Technologies in Children's Everyday
Lives. American Sociological Association Vol. 31, No. 3 (May, 2002) , pp. 346-347
Clark, J., & Friesen, L., (2009). Overconfidence in Forecasts of Own Performance: An Experimental Study. The
Economic Journal, Vol. 119, No. 534 (Jan., 2009), pp. 229-251
Anand, S., & Krosnick, J. A. (2005). Demographic Predictors of Media Use Among Infants, Toddlers, and
Preschoolers. American Behavioral Scientist , 48 (5), 539-561.
Erwina, I. (2013). Activities of Kids and Teens - US - November 2013. Retrieved March 16, 2015 from Mintel
Reports database
Fiona, O’Donnell. (2014). Kids as Influencers. Retrieved March 16, 2015, from from Mintel Reports database
Euromonitor International. (2013). Technology Habits and Influence Across Consumer Types. Retrieved March
17, 2015, from Euromonitor Passport GMID database
Gordon, A. (2007). Technology too much for parents; Advances in electronic media overwhelm home life and
seriously reduce facetime, new study finds: [ONT Edition]. Toronto Star . Retrieved March 17, 2015, from
http://search.proquest.com/docview/439309356?accountid=10735
John, P., Smith, G., & Stoker, G. (2009). Nudge Nudge, Think Think: Two Strategies for Changing Civic
Behaviour. Political Quarterly, 80(3), 361-370. doi:10.1111/j.1467-923X.2009.02001.x
Kahneman, D., Knetsch, J., & Thaler, R. (1991). Anomalies: The Endowment Effect, Loss Aversion, and Status
Quo Bias. The Journal of Economic Perspectives, 5 (1), 193-206.
Kim, P. (2010). Technology in Education: Hurts or Helps? International Examiner, 37 (17), 6. Retrieved March 17,
2015, from
http://search.proquest.com/docview/810710677?accountid=10735
Kuran, T., (1987) Preference Falsification, Policy Continuity and Collective Conservatism. The Economic Journal,
Vol. 97, No. 387 (Sep., 1987), pp. 642-665
Livingstone, S., & Helsper, E. J. (2008). Parental Mediation and Children's Internet Use. Journal of Broadcasting
& Electronic Media , 52 (4), 581-599.
Plowman, L., McPake, J., & Stephen, C. (2008). The Technologisation of Childhood? Young Children and
Technology in the Home. Children & Society , 24, 63-74.
Plowman, L., McPake, J., & Stephen, C. (2013). Pre-School children creating and communicating with digital
technologies in the home. British Journal of Educational Technology , 44 (3), 421-431.
Prensky, M. (2001). Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants Part 1. On the Horizon, 9(5), 1-6.
Rose, K. K., Viitrup, B., & Leveridge, T. (2013). Parental Decision Making About Technology and Quality in
Child Care Programs. Child Youth Care Forum , 42, 475-488.
Simon , H. A. (1995). A Behavioral Model of Rational Choice. The Quarterly Journal of Economics , 69 (1), 99-
118.
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Slovic, P. (1995). The Construction of Preference. American Psychologist , 50 (5), 364-371.
Strack, F., & Deutsch, R. (2004). Reflective and Impulsive Determinants of Social Behavior. Personality and
Social Psychology Review , 8 (3), 220-247.
Taylor, J. (2012, December 4). How Technology is Changing the Way Children Think and Focus.
https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-power-prime/201212/how-technology-is-changing-the-way-children-
think-and-focus
Tversky, A. (1974). Assessing Uncertainty . Journal of the Royal Statistical Society. Series B (Methodological) , 36
(2), 148-159.
Tversky, A., & Kahneman, D. (1974). Judgment under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases. Science, New Series ,
185 (4157), 1124-1131.
Wartella, E., Rideout, V., Lauricella, A. R., & Connell, S. L. (2013). Parenting in the Age of Digital Technology
- A National Survey. Research Study, Northwestern University Center on Media and Human Development,
Northwestern University.
Whyte, K. P., Selinger, E., Caplan, A. L., & Sadowski, J. (2012). Nudge, Nudge or Shove, Shove—The Right
Way for Nudges to Increase the Supply of Donated Cadaver Organs. American Journal Of Bioethics, 12(2), 32-39.
doi:10.1080/15265161.2011.634484
Wilkinson, N., & Klaes, M. (2012). An Introduction to Behavioral Economics. Palgrave Macmillan.
Interviews
Moore, N. (2015, March 25). POV: Parents. (N. Rieve, Interviewer)
Teo, E. (2015, March 25). POV: Children. (L. Lim, Interviewer)
  v	
  
7. Appendices
Appendix A1
POV: Parents
Interviewer: How often and how long do you let your child/ children use technology per day?
(TV, computer, smartphone, tablet, video games, etc.)
Interviewee: Each child uses the computer about 30 minutes a day or less for homework. On
the weekend i would guess they are on some kind of technology for 1-2 hours a
day -that's embarrassing!
Interviewer: Do they have a time limit for using technology? If so, what is the maximum time
within a sitting?
Interviewee: They are supposed to have a time limit, but we don't always follow the rules. My
only rules is NO technology during the school week unless it is for school work.
Interviewer: What technological devices do you let them use? (TV, computer, smartphone,
tablet, etc.)
Interviewee: TV, computer, smartphone, ipad
Interviewer: Do they have their own devices?
Interviewee: They have an old phone (no cell service) that they share, but still need permission
to use.
Interviewer: Why do you let them use technology? (i.e. distraction, reward, to get freedom to
do chores, cook dinner etc.)
Interviewee: ALL of the above.
Interviewer: Are there any particular situations in which you let them use technology? (i.e.
during breakfast/ lunch/ dinner, at a restaurant, in the morning/ at night, in the car,
etc.) NEVER at a restaurant or when it takes away from social interaction. Car
ONLY on long trips.
Interviewer: Do you see any advantages that giving technology to your child/ children could
have over more “traditional” ways of occupying him/her/them? (i.e. puzzles,
board games, books, dolls, etc.) the only advantage is that they have become very
computer savvy which is important since schools are mainstreaming technology
in the classrooms. I think there should be a balance.
Interviewer: Do you feel that your child/ children are getting bored and/ or frustrated if they
are not allowed to use technology?
Interviewee: Sometimes, and I realize this is an issue. Although, my kids are very involved in
sports and other activities.
Interviewer: If there were an alternative that would occupy your child/ children as easily,
would you be willing to replace technology with this alternative? Why or why
not?I still go back to balance. I think that they should be exposed to lots of things
that will occupy their time. I do not just hand them the devices to keep them
  vi	
  
occupied though, I like to wait and allow them to ask me if they want to use it.
Otherwise, I will suggest playing outside, or asking for a playdate etc....
Appendix A2
POV: Children
Interviewer: Lynn Lim (mom)
Interviewee: Elgene Teo (child), 6 years of age
Interviewer: Why do you like your iPad, Elgene?
Interviewee: Because I can play with the Angry Birds and fix puzzles with Thomas & friends
[The Thomas & Friends app].
Interviewer: Shall we play at the yard, and not with the iPad today?
Interviewee: No!! I did my homework and you said you will give me the iPad after my nap.
Interviewer: Do you like Thomas & Friends toys or the one on the iPad? You can only choose
one.
Interviewee: I like both. The iPad (reluctantly). Thomas & Friends can solve puzzles with me.
Toys won’t talk to me, it’s not fun. Mommy, you’ve got an iPad too.
Interviewer: Can I buy you another Thomas & Friends toy and have you stop playing on the
iPad?
Interviewee: No mom, can you download more apps for me please?
  vii	
  
Appendix B1
  viii	
  
Appendix B2
	
  

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Behavioral Economics

  • 1. Emerson College Overdependence on Smart Devices of Children under the Age of 12 Introducing QT as a Solution to Promote Healthy Media Consumption Patterns Eileen Louissaint, Mel Zianne Teo, Nele Rieve GM603 - Behavioral Economics Professor Nejem Raheem 04/02/2015
  • 2.   ii   Table of Contents 1. Introduction 1 2. Background Section 2 3. Behavioral Economics 6 1. Current Situation 7 2. Intervention 9 1. Obstacles 9 2. Opportunities 10 4. Discussion of Proposed Intervention 10 5. Bibliography iii 6. Appendix v
  • 3.   1   1. Introduction Today’s youth are characterized as digital natives—they are born into a world where the use of digital technologies such as computers, video games, digital music players, video cams, cell phones and so on, is part of their daily lives. Due to innovations such as touchscreens that allow easier interaction, these technologies are becoming increasingly accessible by younger children (Rideout, 2013). While there are many benefits to the use of these devices, the risks of excessive use at young ages tend to be neglected despite proven major impacts on the child’s development and health. Research shows that parents often are uncertain about associated risks and tend to overestimate the positive effect that digital technologies might have. This uncertainty paired with the misconception about its role, due to rapid and unprecedented advances in technology, contribute to the excessive use of technology of today’s youth. The purpose of our research is to discover insights behind parental motives linked to the overdependence on technology by children under the age of 12, in order to develop an intervention that promotes the improvement of child health, development, learning capabilities and social skills by informing parents of the risks attributed to overdependence on technology during key developmental ages. This paper is structured into three parts: a background section, a section about behavioral economics, and a section about the proposed intervention. The background section presents findings from both primary and secondary research on digital technology use among young children, the impact of excessive use at a young age, and the current digital technology consumption habits of parents and children. As part of the primary research, point-of-view interviews were conducted with parents and children. The behavioral economics section addresses possible explanations for the current behavior of both parents and children and
  • 4.   2   examines obstacles and opportunities which we must be aware of when framing our intervention. Finally, the proposed intervention section will discuss our intervention derived from the key insights extracted from our interviews and secondary research. 2. Background While digital technology can be helpful to children, the malleability of the brain during early developmental stages are issues of concern that have sparked the growing research today on technology. Our secondary research reveals the impacts of the excessive use of digital technology at a young age, the effects of technology on relationships, the adequate amount of digital technology each day, and current solutions communicated by child specialists to form healthy consumption habits (Christianakis, 2002). Children in developed countries have received the epithet, “digital natives” by Marc Prensky (2001). Having grown up with digital technologies and all the other toys and tools of the digital age as the norm, brains think and process information differently than before. According to a national study “Parenting in the age of digital technology” (2013), 75 percent of children age 8 and under have had access to some type of smart mobile device at home in 2013, compared to 52 percent in 2011. This research further showed that 72 percent of age 8 and under and 38 percent of children under 2 have used these devices to play games, watch videos or use apps. The internet enhances the human ability to scan information at a more rapid and efficient pace, whereas, in the past the popularity of reading physical books allowed the brain to practice focusing and imagination. In the pre-digital world, children had to use their imagination and exercise sensory and motor skills to amuse themselves through “traditional ways of play” such as outdoor activities, board games, puzzles, and so on, the advances in technology have changed structures significantly (Rowan, 2013).
  • 5.   3   As the use of technology increases, studies have correlated it to the rise of physical, psychological and behavior disorders including child obesity, diabetes, ADHD, autism spectrum disorders, coordination disorders, developmental delays, speech disorders, learning difficulties, sensory-processing disorders, anxiety, depression, and sleep disorders (Phillips, 2013). “Physical therapists are now seeing patients as young as eight years old with symptoms of RSI (Repetitive Stress Injury), a trend that seems to be increasing over time,” threatening the health of children that indulge in smart devices for long hours (Kim, 2010). In the earliest stages, children are learning to “focus their vision, reach out, explore” and develop “memory, language, thinking, and reasoning” (Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 2014). These early stages in child development contribute greatly to life-bearing skills which they will take with them into adolescence such as building stronger, friendships and peer relationships (Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 2014), independence from the parents and family, and a sense of self within the world. The use of technology displays use of the automatic and reflective systems of the brain. The automatic system is unconscious and commonly associated with instinct and rapid decisions, while the reflective system requires more concentration for thorough and analytical thought process. The hyperactive nature of fast-paced media disrupts the ability to concentrate and completely comprehend material (Carr, 2010). The inability to digest information in a systematic behavior, such as the reflective system, suggests a disconnect between the parallel processing of the two systems and the patience to train the automatic system to reference cognitive mapping in complex activities such as school work, social settings, and assuming independence—all of which children begin developing at early stages.
  • 6.   4   Marjorie Hogan, MD, FAAP, co-author of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) “Children, Adolescents and the Media” policy suggests the approach to achieving a healthy “media diet” requires the involvement of parents, educators and pediatricians in media education in order to guide children and adolescents towards healthier media consumption habits (Hogan, 2013). Additionally, parents can remove media devices from bedrooms and implement curfews for media devices (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2013). Parents Perspective Parents today lacked the availability of advanced digital technology that children have easy access to today. Since childhood experiences often influence the way parents bring up their own child, this lack of technology in the parents’ upbringing could result in uncertainty in terms of appropriate use of digital technologies (Plowman, McPake, & Stephen, 2008). Marketing of many video and software products for young children intensifies this uncertainty as it makes the parents believe that these products are beneficial and necessary for their child’s educational success (Rose, Viitrup, & Leveridge, 2013). Even though parents are concerned about possible effects that digital technologies could have on their child, they still consider those technologies as safe if the use is moderated and supervised to a certain extent (Livingstone & Helsper, 2008; Plowman et al., 2008). Furthermore, they tend to attribute more value to the educational and social advantages of digital technology use than to negative impacts (Livingstone et al., 2008; Moore, 2015). Parents seek to achieve a balance in their child’s activities. They try to maximize mostly education- related advantages while minimizing disadvantages by moderating their child’s digital technology use. Methods of parental mediation include rulemaking, restrictions, supervision and time limits (Plowman et al., 2008; Plowman, McPake, & Stephen, 2013; Livingstone et al., 2008;
  • 7.   5   Moore, 2015). However, several factors, such as the proliferation of digital technologies in the home, the complexity of these technologies that oftentimes surpasses the digital knowledge of parents, and the tendency of young children to copy their parents’ behavior, hinder the implementation of these regulation efforts (Barreto & Adams, 2011; Livingstone et al., 2008; Anand & Krosnick, 2005). According to Euromonitor International (2013), adult users spend at least 15 hours online per week (Appendix B1). Gordon (2007) highlighted that although parents are a huge influence in determining the amount of time their children spent online, they are often heavy media users themselves: “parents surreptitiously checking BlackBerrys during their children’s concerts,” making them less able to supervise their children as closely as they would otherwise. Furthermore, for parents, their child’s technology is a tool to diversify activities, a reward method and a way of occupying children to gain time to do chores (Moore, 2015; Wartella, Rideout, Lauricella, & Connell, 2013). However, a national study on Parenting in the Age of Digital Technology (Wartella et al., 2013) revealed that the majority of participating parents think that mobile devices did not make parenting easier mainly due to risks associated with technology use. Children’s Perspective While it is important to understand the parent’s perspective regarding this study, it is equally vital to incorporate the views of the children to ensure its comprehensiveness. Elgene is a 6-year old boy that lives in the urban city, Singapore. He has been exposed to smart devices since the age of two (Appendix A2). Elgene particularly enjoys his iPad because he can play his favorite games “Angry Birds” and “Thomas & Friends” on the device. When the interviewer suggested for him to go outdoors to play in the yard, Elgene refused. Additionally, Elgene expressed how he preferred the iPad over traditional toys as it supports higher
  • 8.   6   interactivity. The child’s preference for staying online instead of going outdoors is further supported by a study conducted by Ika Erwina (2013) on the activities of 6–17 year olds, with almost half (46%) stating they would rather spend their time online over playing outside (Appendix B2). Elgene mentioned his mother had an iPad, hinting how parents’ behavior can serve as a model of learning for their children (Gordon, 2007). Therefore, the best way to begin altering children’s behavior is to start from the parents. 3. Behavioral Economics Traditional economic theory (Simon, 1995; Slovic, 1995) implies that people are economic men, homo economicus (sing.), who make economic and ergo rational decisions in order to maximize utility. For a choice to be rational, this economic man is assumed to be completely informed about the range of choices, alternatives and their consequences, and to have a stable system of revealed preferences. However, research on rational decisionmaking suggest that people use an heuristic approach to decisionmaking, suggesting that people do not always make choices that reflect their values since they are not always well informed- revealing habitual behavior and a tendency to follow drives (Strack & Deutsch, 2004). These boundedly rational decision makers try “to attain some satisfactory, although not necessarily maximal, level of achievement” (Slovic, 1995). They use heuristic principles to simplify the complex process of decision making, especially in situations of uncertainty and are prone to biases (Tversky & Kahneman, 1974). As parents and young children are considered ‘boundedly rational decision makers’, this section analyzes the effects that heuristics and biases have on their behavior.
  • 9.   7   3.1. Current Situation Availability Heuristic According to Tversky (1974), people make judgements based on the “ease with which instances or occurrences can be brought to mind”. This phenomenon is called availability. Digital technology for children is often marketed in a way that focuses on benefits that children can derive from using it, while neglecting negative impacts. Furthermore, as technology is constantly evolving and new products are continuously put on the market, these innovations are covered in the news and often presented as a must-have to aid in children’s learning development. Due to the focus on benefits, they tend to be more available to parents than possible negative effects. Therefore, they might not consider the overuse of digital technology as a risk and therefore might not use it in an appropriate way. This heuristic also relates to the two systems of the brain. Parents may rely on their automatic system to make a decision on the use of technology and may not waste time and effort on using their reflective system to completely analyze this decision and consider disadvantages. Anchoring Heuristic The phenomenon of anchoring postulates that “in many situations people estimate an unknown value by starting from some initial value which is then adjusted to yield a final answer” (Tversky 1974). Since the majority of parents did not grow up with the range of technology that is available to children today, they have no reference point in terms of time limits from their own upbringing that they can use to make judgments for the amount of time that children should spend on digital technology. Therefore, they might look for a reference point in either their own behavior or in the behavior of peers. As the amount of time spent on technology that is considered healthy differs between young children and adults, parents might use wrong starting
  • 10.   8   point for their judgements, therefore, allow an overuse without being aware of surpassing the healthy time limits. Children might also use the anchoring heuristic for their judgements. As children mimic the behavior of their parents, they might use the time that their parents spend on technology as a reference point for their own use. When they see their parents use technology for a long period of time, they might assume that they can spend the same amount on time on technology, resulting in overuse. Collective Conservatism (Bias) & Herding (Heuristic) According to the collective conservatism bias and the herding heuristic, people tend to follow leaders in a group and tend to stick to established norms (Kuran, 1987). The collective conservatism bias builds on the herding heuristic. As children’s access to technology increases, more and more children use digital technology. Therefore, parents see other parents giving their children access to devices and might perceive that as adequate for their own children. As a result, parents might then decide to give their own child access to the devices without further examining choices and alternatives as they tend to follow leaders in their communities and adopt behavior of other members. The use of technology amongst children has become a norm in society. Therefore, parents might feel obligated to adhere to that norm and allow their child access to technology without further knowledge on the amount of time that is considered appropriate. Status Quo Bias According to Kahneman, Knetsch, & Thaler (1991), the status quo bias suggests that people have a “preference for the current state” and tend to remain to this status quo as “the disadvantages of leaving it loom larger than advantages”. The status quo bias explains both the parents and the children’s behavior in terms of technology use. Over time, both parties have included digital technologies in their daily routines and its use has become a default option.
  • 11.   9   People tend to adhere to established norms in order to avoid effort that would be required to choose an alternative to the default. Therefore, parents might rely on digital technology as a primary activity for their child. The sames applies to children as the use of technology also might be their default. Optimism & Overconfidence (bias) The optimism and overconfidence bias describe that people tend to overestimate the probability of achieving an objective and tend to have a favourable attitude towards outcomes of an event, the so called better-than-average effect (Clark & Friesen, 2009; Kuran, 1987). The optimism and overconfidence bias come in play as well. Parents don’t think of their children as part of the statistics and therefore don’t think the harmful statistics on tech devices will have immediate harm on their child. 3.2. Intervention Heuristics and biases not only explain the parents’ and children’s current behavior, they also help identify possible obstacles and opportunities for our proposed intervention that is aimed at changing behavior. 3.2.1. Obstacles Since the use of technology has become the default option for children’s activities, overcoming the status quo bias will be an obstacle for the implementation and effectiveness of our intervention. As it requires effort on behalf of parents and children to consider and choose alternatives over their established default option, it might pose a challenge to convince them to change their current behavior. This relates to the bias of loss aversion and the endowment effect. As according to the principles of loss aversion, the impact of losses are generally greater than the impact of equivalent gains and as people therefore try to minimize the risk of losses more than
  • 12.   10   trying to maximize gains (Kahneman, Knetsch, & Thaler, 1991), it could be expected that the loss both parents and children will feel when reducing the time spend on digital technology will be more prevalent compared to what both parties can gain, such as more quality time as a family, diversified activities for the child, and so on. Furthermore, the herding heuristic and collective conservatism bias could present difficulties, as parents will still base their judgments on what other people do and what the accepted norm is, as long as not everybody in their community is changing behavior too. 3.2.2. Opportunities As parents and children aren’t completely rational decision makers, they can be nudged to overcome biases and heuristics. The heuristic approach to decision-making also gives room for opportunities in terms of behavior change. While currently parents are using their own and peers’ technology use as reference point for their children’s technology use, a new anchor could be developed. Furthermore, the availability heuristic can be seen as an opportunity as well. At the moment, mostly examples of benefits readily come to mind of the parents. This could be shifted to a more balanced availability of both benefits and negative effects of technology. Also, while loss aversion might be a challenge for the implementation of our intervention, it can be overcome by framing the perceived loss in a more positive way. 4. Discussion of Proposed Intervention Quadruple T “QT”: Time to Talk Technology Quadruple T (QT) stands for Time to Talk Technology. The QT program is geared towards parents in order to assist them in establishing healthy media consumption habits within the household. The program will be hosted by school districts in order to develop a camaraderie between parents, teachers, and child specialists to support effective changes (Hogan, 2013).
  • 13.   11   Hogan (2013) and the American Academy of Pediatrics suggest ways in which the parents involvement supports the adoption of healthy consumption habits or “media diets”, therefore, our intervention focuses on the role of the parents with support of the primary educational system. This program will provide a cohesive framework between home and school by detecting all points which the child will engage with media. At the beginning of each year, schools will host a “QT” seminar with the students’ parents to discuss the healthy habits which can be established in the home, while also informing the parents how media is being used during the school year on campus. The AAP encourages parents to actively participate in the children’s media intake by engaging in the program with them while also discussing the values of the particular segments. Supporting the anticipated success of our intervention, QT will feature a smart device application “Hello QT” which parents will be required to download on their phones as part of the child’s first assignment of the academic year in order to receive weekly progress reports from the school. The app will include a parent and child version which will sync with the most-used apps on one platform to monitor usage times, assist with app time management, and encourage parents and children to engage in other activities once the media-usage timeframe is complete. By creating a parent and child version of the app, this will encourage the adoption of “media diets” by parents themselves in order to serve as examples for their children. Below we will discuss how we will apply the NUDGEs framework in order to overcome obstacles this proposed solution will need to be successfully implemented in the child’s daily lives with the guidance of their parents. Push notifications will appear on the screen of the smart devices when parents have exceeded the advised time usage; acting as a prompt for them to rethink the cognitive biases of some might deem technology as only beneficial for their children (i.e. education/learning). These
  • 14.   12   prompts will practice choice architecture where the statistics of children suffering from health and development issues could be reflected as the content. This will nudge, understand mappings, parents to understand the consequences of excess screen-time, thereby seeking to improve the overall health and welfare of children (Whyte et al., 2012). Hence, overcoming the optimism and overconfidence bias among parents that fail to recognize the harmful effects that these devices have on their children. In order to defeat parents’ perceived loss of trading the ease of giving their children smart devices, the push notifications will focus on delivering feedback in a gain frame structure that emphasizes the benefits such as staying below the time-limit to the parents to encourage call-to- action. Thereby addressing the status-quo bias of parents that have tendency to stick with their current tech habits. The AAP advises that children under the age of two years avoid watching screen media, while children 3 to 18 years of age should be allowed two hours per day with entertainment media. The app will impose time limits on the devices such that it ceases activity when users exceed the stipulated time spent, making it a default—priming parents to adopt the suggested alternatives. Users (both parents and children) will be rewarded with points each time they keep within the advised screentime that are exchangeable for musicals, concerts as form of incentives for parents, in order to offset the initial loss of giving up on technology and also to have them break away from collective conservatism since they would benefit more from the tangible gains as opposed to following the influence of their friends. Feedback will be sought through the apps from parents from the educational meetings, daily progress on their children and how they have maximized their time by replacing technology with other engaging activities in their routines. This will allow them to understand the implications of their actions which tackles the availability heuristic as it provides parents with a
  • 15.   13   more balanced perspective on the negative effects as compared to a biased opinion of what is portrayed in the advertisements as mentioned earlier (John et al., 2009). Also, such feedback will serve to provide parents with guide to establish their own reference point in making subsequent judgments on the optimal amount of time their children should spend on technology and not allude those based on their own prior knowledge or from their peers which can be limited (anchoring heuristic). We will use the following strategies to measure the success of our intervention: gathering the number of parents who attend the QT Seminars hosted by the schools and the use Google Analytics to monitor how many parents have registered for the app as well as their weekly usage routines. We have also considered regular communication with our partners for the incentives programs to inform our team of the number of redeemed “perks”. Lastly, it would be beneficial to see how the use of this intervention improves children's’ health, development, learning capabilities and social skills by soliciting the expertise of psychologists.
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  • 17.   iv   Slovic, P. (1995). The Construction of Preference. American Psychologist , 50 (5), 364-371. Strack, F., & Deutsch, R. (2004). Reflective and Impulsive Determinants of Social Behavior. Personality and Social Psychology Review , 8 (3), 220-247. Taylor, J. (2012, December 4). How Technology is Changing the Way Children Think and Focus. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-power-prime/201212/how-technology-is-changing-the-way-children- think-and-focus Tversky, A. (1974). Assessing Uncertainty . Journal of the Royal Statistical Society. Series B (Methodological) , 36 (2), 148-159. Tversky, A., & Kahneman, D. (1974). Judgment under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases. Science, New Series , 185 (4157), 1124-1131. Wartella, E., Rideout, V., Lauricella, A. R., & Connell, S. L. (2013). Parenting in the Age of Digital Technology - A National Survey. Research Study, Northwestern University Center on Media and Human Development, Northwestern University. Whyte, K. P., Selinger, E., Caplan, A. L., & Sadowski, J. (2012). Nudge, Nudge or Shove, Shove—The Right Way for Nudges to Increase the Supply of Donated Cadaver Organs. American Journal Of Bioethics, 12(2), 32-39. doi:10.1080/15265161.2011.634484 Wilkinson, N., & Klaes, M. (2012). An Introduction to Behavioral Economics. Palgrave Macmillan. Interviews Moore, N. (2015, March 25). POV: Parents. (N. Rieve, Interviewer) Teo, E. (2015, March 25). POV: Children. (L. Lim, Interviewer)
  • 18.   v   7. Appendices Appendix A1 POV: Parents Interviewer: How often and how long do you let your child/ children use technology per day? (TV, computer, smartphone, tablet, video games, etc.) Interviewee: Each child uses the computer about 30 minutes a day or less for homework. On the weekend i would guess they are on some kind of technology for 1-2 hours a day -that's embarrassing! Interviewer: Do they have a time limit for using technology? If so, what is the maximum time within a sitting? Interviewee: They are supposed to have a time limit, but we don't always follow the rules. My only rules is NO technology during the school week unless it is for school work. Interviewer: What technological devices do you let them use? (TV, computer, smartphone, tablet, etc.) Interviewee: TV, computer, smartphone, ipad Interviewer: Do they have their own devices? Interviewee: They have an old phone (no cell service) that they share, but still need permission to use. Interviewer: Why do you let them use technology? (i.e. distraction, reward, to get freedom to do chores, cook dinner etc.) Interviewee: ALL of the above. Interviewer: Are there any particular situations in which you let them use technology? (i.e. during breakfast/ lunch/ dinner, at a restaurant, in the morning/ at night, in the car, etc.) NEVER at a restaurant or when it takes away from social interaction. Car ONLY on long trips. Interviewer: Do you see any advantages that giving technology to your child/ children could have over more “traditional” ways of occupying him/her/them? (i.e. puzzles, board games, books, dolls, etc.) the only advantage is that they have become very computer savvy which is important since schools are mainstreaming technology in the classrooms. I think there should be a balance. Interviewer: Do you feel that your child/ children are getting bored and/ or frustrated if they are not allowed to use technology? Interviewee: Sometimes, and I realize this is an issue. Although, my kids are very involved in sports and other activities. Interviewer: If there were an alternative that would occupy your child/ children as easily, would you be willing to replace technology with this alternative? Why or why not?I still go back to balance. I think that they should be exposed to lots of things that will occupy their time. I do not just hand them the devices to keep them
  • 19.   vi   occupied though, I like to wait and allow them to ask me if they want to use it. Otherwise, I will suggest playing outside, or asking for a playdate etc.... Appendix A2 POV: Children Interviewer: Lynn Lim (mom) Interviewee: Elgene Teo (child), 6 years of age Interviewer: Why do you like your iPad, Elgene? Interviewee: Because I can play with the Angry Birds and fix puzzles with Thomas & friends [The Thomas & Friends app]. Interviewer: Shall we play at the yard, and not with the iPad today? Interviewee: No!! I did my homework and you said you will give me the iPad after my nap. Interviewer: Do you like Thomas & Friends toys or the one on the iPad? You can only choose one. Interviewee: I like both. The iPad (reluctantly). Thomas & Friends can solve puzzles with me. Toys won’t talk to me, it’s not fun. Mommy, you’ve got an iPad too. Interviewer: Can I buy you another Thomas & Friends toy and have you stop playing on the iPad? Interviewee: No mom, can you download more apps for me please?