The dangers of “early intervention”

by on November 23, 2012 at 1:23 pm in Education, Web/Tech | Permalink

An Australian psychologist says smartphone apps allowing parents to send their naughty children phone calls from Santa “are not useful” and “could be abused.”

Dr. John Irvine said the smartphone apps — including the free “Fake Call From Santa” app and the $1.99 “Parents Calling Santa” app — are “not productive” methods of behavior correction, The Courier-Mail, Brisbane, reported Wednesday.

“These kinds of apps have made the Santa threat much more real and immediate and they could be abused by some parents in the lead-up to Christmas Day,” he said. “What is the point in threatening something that you are not going to carry out? Is mum really going to cancel presents on Christmas Day?
“Empty threats are not useful as kids soon realize that there are no consequences,” he said.

The “Fake Call from Santa” app includes an incoming call with audio, but the “Parents Calling Santa” app allows parents to choose from three recorded messages — a “well done call,” a “could do better” call, or a “must improve or you will get a lump of coal for Christmas” call.

The link is here.

1 dearieme November 23, 2012 at 1:42 pm

I’m just glad to hear that The Curious Mail still exists. In its favour I suppose I can say that when I read it it wasn’t as dull as the NYT.

2 Mark Thorson November 23, 2012 at 3:10 pm

His opinion is based on no data. I don’t see anything wrong with trying out this concept. On the bright side, it might teach children to fear Santa, and it’s only a small step from fear to hate. Hate Santa! Hate Christmas! I like the direction this is heading.

3 Roy November 24, 2012 at 6:42 am

My Dad grew up in a family that regularily dispensed coal. That no one who ever heard that story and knew him very well was ever surprised would tell you how effective it was.

4 Tim "Beatdown" Ferrell November 23, 2012 at 3:28 pm

Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.


5 maguro November 23, 2012 at 8:31 pm

Suffering leads to more Star Wars prequels. And the cycle begins anew.

6 Claudia November 23, 2012 at 3:29 pm

Yeah, yeah, credible threats in discipline are totally sensible in theory and maddeningly hard in practice. What is credible for the parents is often not a threat for the kids. I do think there’s some benefit from an external actor, though in my house a Taylor Swift app would likely go further with my daughter than a Santa app. And then for some kids words just don’t work. My two year old son entered a phase of not having ‘good listening ears’ (can’t imagine who he inherited those from) and he really doesn’t care about grand bargains. (Just ask the poor babysitter he took out of service today.) In any case, most parents understand there are no panaceas…just looking for a little help.

7 Mark Thorson November 23, 2012 at 3:52 pm

There’s a technological solution to that. The parent can have something similar to a TV remote control, and the child has something similar to an ankle monitor capable of delivering a painful but harmless electric shock.

Not credible? BZZZZT! BZZZZT! How about now?

8 Cliff November 23, 2012 at 3:59 pm

How are credible threats at all hard “in practice”? Just don’t threaten to do something you are not going to do. For discipline, I recommend “Setting Limits with Your Strong-Willed Child: Eliminating Conflict by Establishing Clear, Firm, and Respectful Boundaries.” Getting the perfect punishment for every situation may be hard and isn’t going to happen, but following through is basic.

9 Claudia November 23, 2012 at 4:19 pm

I believe my comment focused more on crafting the punishment…I have no trouble with follow through. I am the ‘mean’ parent and I don’t try to be my kids’ friend…just their loving mom (which includes tough love). I have to say Mark’s comments are frightening (even if a joke) …but elevate my view of someone else’s pathetic notion of discipline. Could be worse.

10 Andrew' November 25, 2012 at 4:05 am

The ankle bracelet idea isn’t frightening. There are some studies that suggest that that kind of punishment might be less damaging than psychological punishment done poorly. It’s just that there are a large number of people who have to say physical pain is barbaric or they don’t have children, or they don’t have my kids. If your kid repeatedly risks physical injury or death then whatever stops it effectively must be the right answer. It is why pain exists, by the way. I suspect it is one reason why bullying is tolerated. That is not to say that it should be tolerated. My point is that none of the people offering advice, looking down on parents, or threatening them with social services have a damn thing to offer. So, to them I offer STFU.

We have done our best to eliminate corporal punishment but I always imagine a kid swap with anyone who offers disciplining advice. Also, let’s see where people end up in 20 years. One time my brother and I used an old radio cord to electrocute bugs our father caught us and we never did that again.

11 Jardinero1 November 23, 2012 at 4:58 pm

As a parent, you have to pick your battles wisely. Most parents fail to pick their battles wisely or provide an appropriate and immediate consequence.

I found that spanking worked wonders, with my kids. It is a credible threat, it can be delivered immediately and is over with quickly, allowing all parties to move on. Now that they are older, and so conditioned to listening and obeying, I don’t even have to raise my voice to them.

12 Daniel Dostal November 23, 2012 at 6:25 pm

Sounds like you’re raising some fearful children. Too bad.

13 Jardinero1 November 23, 2012 at 6:51 pm

Not fearful at all. Confident, but conditioned to think before they act.

14 dan1111 November 24, 2012 at 4:43 am

Any credible punishment is going to be something the child does not want to happen. If a child doesn’t fear being punished, then punishment has no effect.

For some reason people can’t seem to distinguish between a healthy fear of consequences for wrongdoing and an unhealthy, cowering fear of one’s parents. The latter is the result of capricious and abusive parenting, rather than consistent consequences for disobedience.

Like Ryan, I was spanked as a child and I wasn’t afraid of my parents, though I was afraid of the consequences of misbehavior.

15 John M November 24, 2012 at 8:22 am

Did any parents fear the consequences of spanking. For example, the child hitting back? Maybe running for a baseball bat and hitting back?

16 John M November 24, 2012 at 8:25 am

Or alternatively, going off and beating up a younger member of the family? Or the family dog?

17 Ryan November 23, 2012 at 6:58 pm

Fear is a component of respect and unlike Daniel, who opines from his lawn chair about the result of your parenting methods, I can say I was spanked as a child, do not fear my parents but wholeheartedly respect them, their guidance, and direction.

Their must always be a balance and moderation is key.

Regarding this blog post, I’m having a hard time understanding the relevance of the title. Tyler and most of the commentators here are light-years smarter than me so perhaps someone could help.

18 GiT November 23, 2012 at 9:31 pm

Fear is confused with or substitutes for respect, it’s hardly a component of it. (It may, I’d grant, be a component in developing it, e.g. one might respect someone for their judicious use of fear when necessary).

19 Mark Thorson November 23, 2012 at 10:36 pm

Wrong answer. BZZZZT!

I have no affiliation with that link. It’s one of many off-the-shelf solutions. Note the analog control for gradual increase of intensity from Mild to Regular. And the non-electrical vibration mode.

20 John M November 24, 2012 at 8:37 am

So now, the question is, how to undo that conditioning? You hurt them and they reward you for hurting them. “He loved Big Brother.”

At the very least, you might realize that you’re teaching them — by example — to beat others up as a means to getting what they want.

A father hairbrushing his 5yo child for saying “butt” is no better than a pair of black (or white) people beating up a white (or black) person for being in the wrong neighborhood.

21 Jardinero1 November 25, 2012 at 3:29 pm

JohnM, I think you are projecting unresolved issues from your childhood or what you saw in someone else’s.

In my own household none of your fears about what my kids took from their spankings could be further from the truth. With my kids, a spanking came after a warning. The spanking itself was three swats on the back of the leg with a ruler and never done in anger. None of mine ever fealt they were treated unjustly or harshly.

They do know, however, that actions and omissions of action bring consequences. They also know that their actions and omissions of action always carry the potential for violence. Sadly, children need to know, that violence, like disease and other predations are out there. It’s a colossal mistake to let children think that they will be able to reason or talk their way out of every bad situation. Mind you, that I am not advocating violence either, but kids need to learn to exercise care not to fall into situations where violence might be an outcome.

22 TGGP November 27, 2012 at 7:02 pm

Parents are different from strangers. I was spanked as a child and find John M’s hyperventilations ridiculous.

23 Cliff November 24, 2012 at 11:45 am

Violence is not the answer, unless you are being physically attacked. An important lesson for children and adults.

24 Eric November 25, 2012 at 3:17 am

I was spanked. Rarely. I didn’t fear my parents. It stopped when I got old enough to A) physically challenge my parents and B) be mature enough that they could threaten things the that were worse then a 10sec spanking. AKA I could comprehend how terrible a week with no Nintendo would be. A 5 year old has no comprehension of how long a week with no (TV, iPad, etc) is. A swift swat to learn them not to run out into the street is in everybody’s interest.

Plural of anecdote is not data however. But getting solid data in social science is obviously terrifyingly hard.

25 Brian Donohue November 23, 2012 at 5:15 pm

pfft… try the Keyser Söze app.

26 David Wright November 23, 2012 at 6:56 pm


27 Ronald Brak November 24, 2012 at 4:40 am

No mention of an app that gives children a fake call from God telling them that Mommy and Daddy will be terribly sad that they will be looking down from heaven watching the child burn in hell alone unless the child stops being naughty. If the app makers don’t offer that service I wonder why they have over looked such an obvious business opportunity, because after all it’s basically the same thing.

28 Mark Thorson November 24, 2012 at 9:44 am

I was thinking about that. It would be year-round rather than seasonal. Even better would be synchronizing the call from God with an electric shock, so the kid knows it was God. If that was the only context in which the kid ever felt an electric shock, it could be quite convincing. A call from God could also program higher level goals than merely stopping bad behavior. God might command building an ark or something. A more appropriate goal for a kid might be learning to swim or play the piano.

29 Ronald Brak November 25, 2012 at 10:52 pm

If they used the same voice actor for both Santa Claus and God it would probably clear up a lot of theological confusion among four year olds.

30 Mark Thorson November 26, 2012 at 10:24 am

And prepare for atheism in the adult. And a peculiar attitude toward electricity.

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