Mike the Psych's Blog

What if psychologists ruled the world? In real life?

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Social media really is bad for kids (as if you didn’t already know this)

It only takes one hour a day on social media to make children unhappy, whether it’s Facebook or Snapchat or any other platform.

Researchers at the University of Sheffield asked 4,000 10-15 year-olds to rate how happy they were with different aspects of their lives.

They found that the more time children spent chatting online the less happy they were about their school and work, their appearance, their family and their life in general.

Spending only 1 hour a day on social networks reduced the probability of a child being completely happy with his or her life by 14%.

This is three times higher than the impact of being in a single-parent household and greater than the effect of playing truant.

However they did feel happier about their friendships. They just haven’t realised that social media friends are not real friends as previous research has shown. Spending time on social networks can actually make you feel more lonely.

Some experts argue that spending time on social networks diverse children from risky behaviours such as smoking and under-age drinking (but what about sexting?) while other studies show that it contributes to poor mental health, especially among girls. And in this study it was also the girls who felt worse about their appearance and their school.

90% of 16-24 year-olds use online social networks and younger users routinely get round the 13 year threshold for users. More than three-quarters of 10-12 year-olds have social media accounts. According to Ofcom children aged 8-11 send 11 hours a week on social media and 12-15 year-olds almost 19 hours, both figures double what they were 10 years ago.

But do the social network providers care? Of course not, it’s all about advertising revenue for them and the earlier they catch people the better as far as they’re concerned. You only have to look at the resistance of Google/YouTube to doing anything about the hate videos and pornography to realise what drives them. $$$$…

And it’s interesting that the likes of the late Steve Jobs and other Silicon Valley techno-billionaires didn’t allow their own kids to access social networks.

The WoodWide Web

dscf1550rWhat do you think when you hear of (famous) people talking to trees – and I’m not talking about characters in Tolkien’s Middle Earth taking to Ents, a race of  beings who closely resemble trees?

According to Tony Kirkham, the head of the Arboretum at Kew Gardens trees are very much like us; they are intelligent social beings which talk to each other.

He supports the idea proposed by a German Forester Peter Wohlleben that trees communicate with each other underground through a “woodwide web“.

In a natural environment the adults protect and nurture the young ones. And when a tree is stressed the canopies are touching, there’s a lot of networking going on underground with root systems and fungal systems and they share resources.”

He believes there is intelligence among trees and care between communities. He saw a knot of albino redwoods which obviously didn’t process chlorophyll but managed to survive on their own. “They must have been receiving nutrients from other trees”.

He also thinks trees have different personalities. Willows and Poplars are unsociable and don’t like company so their method of spreading seeds ensures that they are scattered far away from the parent tree.

Oaks on the other hand drop their acorns close by and the parent tree likes to safeguard it and bring it up.

Kirkham admits that however appealing this theory is it’s hard to prove.


Ents, whose name is derived from the Anglo-Saxon word for giants, are similar to talking trees found in folklore around the world.

p1010237In Lithuania, the last european country to convert from paganism, I saw carved trees in museums with human features (the wood carving at the top of the page is from Lithuania also).

People also decorate trees with human features.

They also keep them warm with urban knitting, but that’s another story.



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Facebook – no global domination just yet

Megalomaniac Mark Zuckerberg must have been really annoyed when he read in the Independent that his creation is not the most popular social networking site everywhere in the world (assuming he ever reads an actual newspaper).

Rhodri Marsden’s Cyberclinic column spelled it out: Facebook hasn’t yet “connected the world”.

An Italian blogger has pulled together data from web ranking service Alexa.com to produce a colour coded map of the world showing each countries most popular social networking sites. Last year there were 18 but there are now only 11 resisting after Facebook’s onward march into Hungary, Poland, and other countries.

So raise a glass to the resistance: Discounting China (because they say so) Iran prefers embracecloob.com; Netherlands prefers Hyves.nl and in Russia and other former soviet republics including Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan they have V Kontakte or VK (“in contact” or “in touch” –  a cross between Facebook and Linkedin) which is the biggest in Europe, and Odnoklassniki (more like Friends re-united), and in Latvia they have Draugiem.lv (“for friends”).

But it’s Brazil and Japan who are resisting the strongest with a Google owned site Orkut being the most popular in Brazil. You have to be aged 18 to join and 48% of its members are in Brazil, 40% in India and only 2% in the USA.

In privacy-conscious Japan it’s Facebook which only has a 2% membership, compared with 60% in America, whilst sites like Mixi, Gree, and Mobage-Town, where you can have anonymity and pseudonymity – which Facebook doesn’t allow – have the most members. And unlike on Facebook half of Japanese users don’t actually know their on-line contacts.

See: “So Many friends…


So much social networking, so little time

Malaysians have the most “friends” on their social networks, according to a study in 46 countries, with an average of 233 followed closely by Brazil with 231 and Norway with 217.

In Japan the average is only 29, perhaps reflecting cultural differences about what friendship really means, and 68 in China (no surprise perhaps given the state censorship).

Malaysians also spend more time on these sites spending an average of 9 hours a week on them, followed by Russia with 8.8 hours and Turkey with 7.7 hours.

TNS, the company that carried out the survey, say the biggest changes are due to the use of mobile phones to access the internet rather than using computers and that consumers are now spending more time on social networking sites than using e-mail.

Interestingly, given the strict control by the government in China (think of what happened with Google for example), 4 out of 5 users there write their own blogs compared to 1 in 3 in the USA.

See also: “Shoot yourself in the foot, join Facebook” and “So many friends but still lonely” and Facebook vigilantes...

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Facebook vigilantes cop traffic offenders in Delhi

In India Delhi traffic police set up a page in Facebook two months ago with the intention of informing the public about traffic snarl-ups.

What they actually got was “crowd sourced” photographs of people breaking the traffic laws.

The Facebook vigilantes have posted 3,000 images which have resulted in 700 tickets being issued including 50 to policemen.

The 5,000 strong police force (in a city of 12 million), which has stopped a quarter of a million drivers who ran red lights already this year, has now dedicated 4 officers to checking the Facebook site and other cities are calling for similar action. Offences include blacked out cars, whole families on a scooter, and drivers on mobile phones.

The report in the Times; “Facebook vigilantes give traffic police a headstart” pointed out that most of the images appear to have been taken from mobile phones! If you want to see the results see: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Delhi-Traffic-Police/117817371573308

So you don’t have to have a Facebook account to get caught out, other people are quite happy to do that for you!


Every school should have one!

An incompetent teacher! Yes, according to Ofsted chief Zenna Atkins. She says; “every school should have a useless teacher so children can learn how to deal with people in authority who are not up to the job”.

She thinks children are adept at exploiting incompetent teachers and they could learn a valuable skill for “playing authority” later in life. She accepts that in business you would get rid of the 10% of staff who are poor performers but doesn’t think that applies to teaching.

A self-proclaimed social entrepreneur who was illiterate at 11 years of age, expelled from school, failed English 3 times and left with 1 O level (she claims to be dyslexic) she was appointed as the chairman of Ofsted in 2006 to beef it up. She said she wanted to get the basics right and that her mission was to get all children to read.

So far so good you might think given how she overcame her own difficulties at school. So what is she talking about now? The now-disbanded General Teaching Council said there were 17,000 “sub-standard” teachers two years ago and they have only managed to get rid of 18 in the last ten years so there are plenty of bad teachers still around, largely due it seems to gutless head teachers who give them references so they can move on to another school.

Children need good teachers to help them achieve their potential and Ofsted should be setting hight standards not accepting that some teachers are rubbish. Atkins is leaving Ofsted to take over as Chief Executive of Gems, the world’s biggest private education company, which intends to set up state funded “free schools”. I wonder how many incompetent teachers they will be recruiting?

Updated 25 November 2010: It seems Zenna Atkins’ new job as Chief Executive of Gems – UK, Europe, and Africa wing, didn’t work out too well. She left after just 7 weeks. She wouldn’t say why she had left or if it was a mutual decision just that she had “quickly realised that the company wasn’t for her” and had not taken any severance pay by choice.

Perhaps they weren’t amused by her ideas about recruiting useless teachers or maybe they realised she was a bit lacking in the formal qualifications department. Anyway she went to work for a new company called Zail aiming to deliver public services using private sector investment in the UK and sub-Saharan Africa. (Not much about Zail on the www apart from her own blogs. Perhaps it stands for Zenna Atkins in limbo?).

Anyway the good news is that the coalition government is getting tough on Ofsted, teacher training, endless re-sits of exams guaranteeing high grades, and, at last, making it easier to get rid of incompetent teachers. Research in the USA suggests that an excellent teacher gets through a year and a half of material in a year compared with poor teachers who only get through 1/2 a year’s worth. In the UK pupils taught by the worst teachers attain GCSE grades at least one grade lower than other pupils.

Updated 21 February 2011: Despite promises it doesn’t seem that much has changed. In the Sunday Times this weekend it was reported that in the last three years only 28 of the 4448,000 working teachers have been subject to hearings. Since January 2008 there have been 78 cases of incompetence reported but there were only 28 full hearings. 8 were struck off, 6 were suspended, 5 were kept on the register and 8 were cleared.

As I posted last July gutless head teachers are giving bad teachers references so that they can be recycled in the system. The article also suggested that local authorities are failing in their legal duty to refer teachers who are dismissed or resign because of incompetence to the General Teaching Council for England (GTC).

The chairman of the GTC, Gail Mortimer, told its governing council; “we know that recycling of teachers below the threshold of competence remains a part of employment practice, even if it has diminished”. Naturally the teachers’ unions weren’t happy about this criticism but looking at the statistics you wonder if they have their heads in the sand.

A number of teachers were named in the article: Maulhalaxmi Weerasinghe appeared before the GTC and was suspended for two years but is now on a government funded scheme to help her get back into teaching; Susan Preston was barred from teaching in secondary school after being found incompetent by the GTC but is now teaching in primary schools; David Foster escaped with a reprimand despite the GTC finding him seriously incompetent and failing to provide leadership as head of department; Bhavin Toprani was suspended for only a year despite being found seriously incompetent.

Education experts have estimated that there are between 15,000 and 20,000 incompetent teachers. One said he thought there were between 5 and 10% totally incompetent and another 20-25% who didn’t care. He also said that unions were expert at dragging proceedings out for up to a year and that teachers being challenged about their competence would go off on sick leave claiming stress or backache.

So no change so far. Incompetent teachers, ineffective regulation, councils failing in their legal responsibility, and gutless head teachers combine to continue to blight children’s futures.

A survey by the TES found that more than 3,000 teachers were subject to formal proceedings but fewer than 10% were sacked or accepted severance payments. And only 10% of that number get reported to the GTC.

Updated 2 May 2011: More on incompetent teachers and badly run schools in the Times Opinion last Week. A reminder about Zenna Atkins stupid comment, and the impact of a US documentary; “Waiting for Superman” which focussed attention in America back on teaching and showed that if you have the right teachers you can stop worrying about classroom sizes and the curriculum.

Malcolm Gladwell, who found that children were better off with a good teacher in a bad school than vice versa, believes that teaching ability is a gift and; ” teaching should be open to anyone with a pulse and a college degree”. Research at Bristol University confirms this but the government thinks all teachers should have at least a 2:2 degree to apply for training.

And then we come back to those teachers who try to be friends to their pupils or are scared of them. Or, my hobby horse, weak head teachers who fail to show any real leadership, fail to support their staff and undermine their authority – leading to a recent strike by teachers at one school in Lancashire where the head sat ensconced in her office and local councillors came out with a load of PR speak not worth repeating.

The head teacher, Hilary Torpey, has since been suspended by Blackburn with Darwen Council pending a full investigation and an interim head is being appointed. The move was welcomed by the union and the news story generated several blog postings from people who said they knew her in a previous headship role in Skelmersdale and suggesting she was a bully.

BBC News reported (6/9/2011) that Hilary Torpey has resigned to continue her career “elsewhere in education” Given this country’s track record with bad teachers she will probably land on her feet somewhere else.

And the article mentions the unbelievable example of one head teacher, Belinda Langley-Bliss, who boasted about the size and firmness of her breasts on Facebook just after introducing a new disciplinary regime at Wilmington Enterprise College in Kent. As a result teachers in Kent were sent a letter asking them to close down Facebook and similar social networking accounts as individuals have no control over information once posted.

Updated 24 December 2012: And yet another teacher falls foul of Facebook. This time DebbieJohnson, a primary school head in Hull, has quit her job along with another teacher Nyanza Roberts after posting comments about her pupils on her Facebook page saying “no wonder  everyone is thick … inbreeding must damage brain development”. There might be an element of truth in what she says but hardly the kind of comment to foster good school-parent relationships.


Shoot yourself in the foot – join Facebook 

Actually any social networking site will do it according to an article in The Times (2/7/2010).

The American Academy of Divorce Lawyers says 80% of its members have used or been faced with evidence from social networking sites.

The biggest source is Facebook (66%), then MySpace (15%) and Twitter (5%).

From pot-smoking denials to claims of being childless whilst fighting for child custody, members seem to forget the information is out there forever. And in the UK a DIY Divorce site says 20% of its cases mention Facebook.

But it’s not just divorce lawyers or jilted partners who are using these sites. A survey of British employers found that 20% checked Facebook, MySpace and Bebo – and a quarter of them had rejected candidates because of what they had found. In the USA a Microsoft survey found that 78% of recruiters searched the internet to check applicant’s backgrounds.

So in addition to the potentially negative social and emotional aspects of Facebook you now run the risk of jeopardising your marriage and your job prospects. With 40% of the UK population having a Facebook account there’s plenty of dirt to dig.

Updated 17 January 2011: Social networking sites are being cited with increasing frequency in the UK, particularly in the post-Xmas divorces, according to another article in the Times (15/1/2011). Facebook is the main culprit but Second Life, Illicit Encounters and Friends Re-united are also in the frame. Suspicious spouses are searching these for evidence of flirting and affairs.

Some lawyers report 10 times as many divorces in the weeks immediately after Xmas and a 20% rise overall. One said; “Facebook is the divorce lawyer’s jewel in the crown”. Facebook pages, along with sexy tests and chats are now being used as evidence of “unreasonable behaviour”.

People are also resorting to Facebook to get back at former partners by slagging them off or posting pictures of their new lovers. In fact Facebook already has a divorce page where people can describe what it was like going through their divorce.