A Computing Pioneer Says It’s Never Too Early to Teach Kids to Code

Dame Stephanie Shirley, one of the UK’s most respected pioneers in computing, says that children as young as two should be introduced to the basics of coding. Shirley’s company sold software in the 1960s — among the first businesses to do so. She told The Guardian that it is essential to engage very young children, especially girls, before negative stereotypes take hold. To do so, she believes, helps to foster a love of problem-solving and puzzles.

“I don’t think you can start too early,” Shirley told The Guardian, adding that research indicates it’s ideal to introduce simple coding activities to children by the time they are two to seven years old. “Most successful later coders start between five and six. In a sense, those years are the best for learning anything … and means that programming [hasn’t] become set in your mind as geeky or nerdy.”

Shirley’s comments have a special salience in light of the UK’s A-level results released last week, which revealed the ongoing gender divide in computing: only 9.8 percent of students who took computing at A-level were girls.

Shirley also called for tech companies such as Facebook and Google to help address the lack of female programmers by introducing anonymous recruitment. Google’s diversity statistics are about average in the industry, with only about 20 percent of Google engineers being female. One recent report revealed that male founders are almost twice as likely to win venture capital funding as their female counterparts.

One person who was likely unsurprised by the report’s findings would be Stephanie Lampkin, the mind behind Blendoor, an app and platform designed to help tech companies fix their diversity problem. She understands the issues, not just because of Blendoor, but through first hand experience: despite Lampkin’s achievements, she has been turned away in Silicon Valley more than once. She was a full-stack web developer by age 15 and holds an engineering degree from Stanford University, as well as an MBA from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Yet as a black woman, she has been turned down for a software engineering position because — as she was told — her background wasn’t “technical enough.”

The point, according to Lampkin, is to get more girls and people of color involved in technical pursuits early — and not just so they are prepared and engaged upon entering the industry. This will also change the broader perception of what technical people, deserving VC funding, look like. Lampkin told Moguldom, “When I walk into a room to pitch a VC, even if [the VC] is a black gay woman, there is no data in their brain to pull from to fairly and accurately gauge my competency as a founder — because there has never been a black woman engineer to create software with international exposure worth billions of dollars. Never. I don’t fit the type.”

Blendoor works to anonymize the hiring process in a way much like what Shirley is calling for. Women like Lampkin and Shirley see the perpetuation of the same patterns and want to break the mold by helping children begin learning — and even loving — to code early on. “Once you have an imbalance, the leaders of today define the leaders of tomorrow,” Shirley told The Guardian. “It’s instinctive to recruit in your own image. I think some of this will continue until we actually learn to anonymize some of our relationships and computers help in that.”

Of course this entire conversation takes place in the wake of the Google internal memo about the gender gap — an incident which merely underscores the issue. In her early days running a business, Shirley used the name “Steve” professionally in order to win contracts more easily. This was in the 1960s, but now, nearly 60 years later, Lampkin points out how difficult it still is for female run companies to win VC funding. Maybe teaching coding to children at a very young age will teach them not only to code and think computationally, but also to see the tech industry — and the world — as diverse.

FDA To Consumers: Don’t Let Your Kids Have Codeine

The FDA has released a statement saying parents should not give children medication that contains the narcotics codeine or tramadol. Some children and adults process opioid drugs more quickly—which can cause the level of narcotics in the bloodstream to rise too high—too quickly.

This can lead to an overdose in children because of their small size. Nursing mothers are also warned to stay away from the narcotics, as they can pass unsafe levels of opioids to their babies through their breast milk.

The FDA says medication labels will be updated to warn against giving these medications to children under 12, as well as women who are nursing or pregnant.

Dr. Douglas Throckmorton, deputy center director for regulatory programs at the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, said “it’s very hard to determine which child or mother has this risk, so that’s why we’ve taken this action today.”

Multiple prescription drugs, such as the painkiller Tylenol 3, contain codeine and tramadol.

“They are powerful, effective medicines when used right [but] they can cause a lot of harm when they’re not,” Dr. Throckmorton added.

The FDA also warned against giving these narcotics to children ages 12 –
18 who are obese, suffer from obstructive sleep apnea, have a weakened respiratory system or have just had their tonsils removed, as the drugs can increase the chances of dangerous breathing problems.

The FDA will hold a public advisory committee meeting later this year to discuss broader use of the drug as a cure for cough and cold.

“We understand there are limited options when it comes to treating pain and cough in children,” Throckmorton said.

Study: First-Born Children Are More Intelligent

According to a study recently published in the Journal of Human Resources, first born children tend to be more intelligent than their younger siblings. Researchers at the University of Edinburgh believe this is a result of the first-born child receiving more mental stimulation from parents during early developmental stages of life.

In the study, data from the U.S. Children of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth on nearly 5,000 children was collected. The children were monitored from pre-birth until they turned 14, and they were assessed every two years.

These assessments ranged in categories, from reading to vocabulary to matching letters. Information concerning environmental factors, such as family background and economic conditions was also collected.

The results of the assessments showed that first-born children typically outperformed their younger siblings, even as early as age one. Though the younger children were receiving the same emotional support as their oldest sibling, researchers found that parents gave their first-born children more support with tasks that develop thinking skills, including reading with the child, crafting and playing musical instruments.

It was also recorded that mothers took higher risks during pregnancies with their second and third children—such as increased smoking. These findings help explain the “birth order effect,” a phenomenon in which the first-born child makes more money and gets a higher education than his or her younger siblings.

Describing the study’s results, Ana Nuevo-Chiquero of the University of Edinburgh School of Economics said that “broad shifts in parental behavior are a plausible explanation for the observed birth order differences in education and labor market outcomes.”

PSA: Keep Your Kids Away From Laundry Detergent Pods

For families with young children, the convenience of laundry detergent pods is probably not worth the risk. Between 2012 and 2015, the number of chemical burns associated with laundry pods rose more than 30 percent among three and four-year-olds.

Since these single-dose detergent packs hit the market, there are have been over 1,200 reported pod-related injuries including eye burns, choking and poisoning. A study, published in JAMA Ophthalmology, found that pre-school age children could easily be injured when handling the colorful pods, possibly mistaken as a toy or candy. Injuries occurred most often when the contents were squirted into their eyes or rubbed into their eyes after handling a leaking pod.

Unlike regular liquid detergent, the pods have a higher concentration of surfactants, a chemical compound used to remove stains—causing the ordinarily safe ingredient to irritate sensitive areas such as the eyes. Some children who experience pod-related eye injuries could suffer long-term vision impairment due to the caustic properties in the detergent.

In response to the study’s results, the American Cleaning Institute (ACI) has launched a campaign to spread awareness of possible pod-related injuries. Procter & Gamble, the parent company of Gain and Tide brand laundry pods, also put out an ad campaign to educate parents on pod safety.

If a child does get detergent in their eye, doctors suggest immediately rinsing the eye with cool water for 20 minutes. Lead researcher Dr. R. Sterling Haring says, “Don’t stop and take them to the hospital. Don’t call and wait for an ambulance to show up. Flush the eye with cool water before you do anything else. That’s going to be the deciding factor about long-term outcome for this injury.”

Is Your Child’s ‘Gaming Diet’ Unhealthy?

The next time you take your kids to the pediatrician, the doctor will ask the usual questions about their eating and exercise habits. But there may be a new inquiry added to the lineup that goes something like this: “How much violent media is your child exposed to?”

It’s a valid concern because these days, violent media isn’t limited to video games or movies kids may watch. Though that’s definitely something to consider, as 97 percent of teens play video games, according to the American Psychological Association. And in the year 2000, every G-rated movie contained violence, as did 60 percent of prime time television shows.

But as recent mass shootings and terror attacks around the globe have proved, just watching the news can expose kids to violent images and ideas. And with virtual reality headsets becoming more and more affordable, children may soon be fully immersed in a violent experience, such as being dropped into a war zone.

Which is why the American Academy of Pediatricians (AAP) recently released a new policy statement about the effects of virtual violence on children’s attitudes and behaviors along with a set of guidelines for parents on age-appropriate “media diets.” “Like food diets, media diets can be healthy or unhealthy, balanced or imbalanced, or healthy in quality but unhealthy in quantity,” the statement says.

According to the AAP, decades of research and hundreds of studies have proven a strong association between screen violence and real-world aggression. Just how solid is the connection? “It is greater than the association between secondhand smoke exposure and lung cancer as well as breast self-examination and reduced risk of death from cancer. Yet many municipalities have banned smoking because of its risks, and most clinicians advise women to perform regular self-exams,” writes Dr. Dimitri A. Christakis, lead author of the statement.

If that doesn’t make you understand how serious the issue is, maybe this quote from the AAP’s new statement will:

In 1998, the most comprehensive assessment of screen violence was completed. It estimated that the typical child will have seen 8,000 murders and 100,000 other acts of violence (including rape and assault) before middle school. The 1998 report was limited to television, which was appropriate at the time, because it was the primary platform exposing children to violence. Today’s children experience screen violence on many different platforms, including computers, video games, and touch-screen devices.

It takes a village

The AAP isn’t placing the responsibility for taming kids’ media diets solely on parents. They’re calling on all doctors, lawmakers, the entertainment industry and media outlets themselves to step up to the plate, too. Here’s how:

Policymakers should consider laws that provide parents with more specific information about the content of all forms of media, as well as develop and implement a “parent-centric” rating system.

The entertainment industry should not glorify violence and weapons or make either look “normal.” Violence shouldn’t be used for laughs, the AAP says, and when it’s portrayed, “it should include the pain and loss suffered by the victims and perpetrators.”

Pediatricians should be leaders in this push by “advocating for more child-friendly media” and working with the entertainment industry to develop those child-friendly shows and games. And they should talk to parents about kids’ “media diets” during annual checkups.

The news media should acknowledge the connection between on-screen violence and behavioral aggression the same way they acknowledge the link between secondhand smoke and lung cancer, the AAP says.

Parents should play games with kids to get a sense of what the games entail. Ideally, video games shouldn’t use human targets or reward points for killing, the AAP recommends. However, children under age 6 can’t distinguish fantasy from reality, so they should be protected from watching violence of any kind on any platform, the AAP says.

E-Cigarettes Are Poisoning Kids In Record Numbers

The number of children under the age of six being directly exposed to the nicotine liquid used in e-cigarettes has risen almost 1,500 percent, according to a new study published in the journal Pediatrics. As the tobacco product-alternative becomes increasingly popular, children are ingesting, touching, and inhaling the solution in growing numbers.

“[E-cigarette liquid is] very different than other tobacco [products] like cigars, cigarettes, and snuff,” Rick Spiller, director of the Central Ohio Poison Center at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and a co-author of the study, told Vocativ. “These are really concentrated. Two teaspoons are equivalent to four, five, sometimes eight packs of cigarettes. A child isn’t going to eat two packs of cigarettes, but can easily swallow a mouthful of this, and that’s all they need.”

Of the 29,000 children under the age of six included within the study, which used data collected by the National Poison Data System from January 2012 to April 2015, children aged two or younger accounted for almost half of all e-cigarette poisonings. Given the high concentration of liquid nicotine stored in the vials used to refill e-cigarettes, the report details how accidental exposure to these products are 2.6 times more likely to result in severe medical outcomes. In 2014, a one-year-old child in New York died after ingesting e-cig liquid.

Ingestion accounted for over 81 percent of all exposures that warranted calls to poison control centers in that time. The effects of nicotine exposure in children can range from symptoms like mild skin irritation, vomiting, and drowsiness, to major health outcomes like seizures, rapid heart rate, and worse.

E-cigarettes, which first entered U.S. markets in 2007, have become increasingly popular in recent years while traditional, combustible cigarette usage is falling. In 2013, the prevalence of children’s exposure to e-cigarettes and e-liquid surpassed all other forms of tobacco products (like chewing tobacco, cigars, and snuff) besides cigarettes for the first time, and the trend has continued. (For reasons that baffle the adult mind, thousands of children are still eating cigarettes each year.)

While cigarettes remain the most common type of nicotine product children are exposed to, it would seem that the rise of the e-cigarette is driving the overall increase. Between 2012 and 2014, the overall annual rate of nicotine and tobacco product exposure in children under the age of six increased by 40 percent.

While federal legislation requiring child-resistant packaging for e-liquid containers was passed in January, there are currently no stipulations regarding the flavoring, packaging design/warnings, or nicotine concentration of the e-liquid. The study, which also analyzed the packaging of e-liquid products and the usage of scented “flavors” like cotton candy and bubblegum, calls for these next steps in efforts to curb the rising problem, something the Federal Drug Administration is currently exploring. Spiller also believes that increased education on the dangers of liquid nicotine is necessary, especially for parents.

According to data from the American Association of Poison Control Centers, children under the age of five more commonly accessed e-cigarettes and e-cigarette liquid than they did alcoholic beverages in 2014, perhaps indicative of the lack of awareness parents have in understanding the dangerous nature of e-cigarette liquids when ingested or touched by children (as nicotine can also be absorbed through the skin).

“I think parents try to lock [products like alcohol] up, or make sure their kids don’t get it,” Spiller said. “But in this case, [e-cigarettes are] relatively new. If you had a dangerous thing in your house like drain cleaner, you don’t leave that around. You put it in a cabinet, you lock it up. We want parents to treat [e-cigarettes and e-liquid] like that. They don’t necessarily view it as dangerous, but in this concentrated form, there’s a great risk. If you had heart medication, you wouldn’t leave it out on the counter. Especially not heart medication that smells like cotton candy.”

Teachers Want to Ban Wi-Fi in the Classroom

In Kingston Ontario, two teachers unions want to have Wi-Fi turned off because they believe the signals post a health risk. Ashely Csanady writes in the National Post:

“We’re concerned because Wi-Fi and microwave communications have not been determined to be safe, and we’ve never received any training about the hazards such as all the warnings that come with your cellphones or wireless devices,” said Andrea Loken president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation Limestone District. “We’ve never been asked if we’re OK with being subjected to Wi-Fi all day everyday while we’re at work. No one has given consent and no one has been informed of the risks.”

This is not a new issue in Ontario. A few years back there was a campaign to remove Wi-Fi from a school district north of Toronto. The fight may have traction because one of the most vocal activists about the subject, Dr. Magda Havas, teaches at Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario, and writes extensively about the problem — right in the middle of it all.

But thousands of studies and most reputable scientists suggest there’s little risk, primarily because the energy output of a router is so low. As Dr. Steven Novella of the NeuroLogica blog noted,

From a basic science perspective, there is little plausibility to the notion that Wi-Fi radiation would have any health effects. The amount of energy that is absorbed by a person living in a Wi-Fi field is negligible — less than 1% of exposure from a typical cellphone and well below current safety levels.

This is the biggest problem with the worries about Wi-Fi; it’s only one of many sources of Electromagnetic Forces (EMF), and it’s one of the smallest. There are many people who are concerned about EMF. In Europe, it’s taken seriously, and EMF sensitivity is recognized as an illness.

But those kids in the classroom are getting far more of it from the fluorescent tube transformers, computer power supplies and the cellphone towers and power transmission lines out in the neighborhood than they are from the router. And it’s far, far less than the kids get while waiting for that pizza pocket to heat up in the microwave, let alone the TV the kids are probably parked in front of at home.

There has been some movement in the five years since the last anti-Wi-Fi uprising in Ontario. Most everyone quoted then was unequivocal in discounting the dangers of EMF and Wi-Fi, and now they’re more careful how they say it. From the National Post:

“I don’t think most scientific experts would feel there is any kind of an established risk for children around Wi-Fi,” said Dr. Ray Copes, chief of environmental and occupational health with Public Health Ontario. “That’s very different than saying we have conclusively proven that nothing can ever happen to anyone…We’re not aware of any evidence that would suggest that the Wi-Fi exposures in schools are a major contributor to (radiofrequency) exposures overall,” he said. “Wherever we go we’re going to be exposed to some degree of radiation, and that’s everything from sunlight… to high-voltage electricity transmission.

Nobody, including me, is denying that there may be dangers from all the EMF we’re bathing in. I’ve even complained that we shouldn’t put powerful cellular transmitters on apartment buildings. But it’s a different dose. The Wi-Fi router puts out such a tiny amount of radiation that it’s crazy to point to it. Those teachers would get less electromagnetic radiation if they turned off the lights.

More Evidence Shows That Feeding Kids Peanuts Before They Turn 1 Could Prevent Allergies

With the rate of peanut allergies on the rise worldwide, a new study has provided even more evidence that exposing babies to peanuts early on can provide long-lasting protection against life-threatening allergies.

Researchers worked with babies who had a high risk of allergies, which meant they’d already suffered from eczema or an allergy to eggs. But by giving them regular doses of peanut paste before they were 11 months old, the team showed that they could reduce their risk of developing peanut allergies at the age of five by more than 80 percent.

They’ve now tested the same children a year on, and have demonstrated that the protection lasts – even when the kids are no longer regularly eating peanuts.

That’s really exciting, because it’s often after prolonged periods of no exposure that allergies rear their head. But even after a year off, the children who’d eaten peanuts before their first birthday were still protected – with an overall 74 percent reduction in allergies compared to babies who’d been kept away from the food their whole lives.

“[The research] clearly demonstrates that the majority of infants did in fact remain protected and that the protection was long-lasting,” lead researcher Gideon Lack from King’s College London in the UK, told BBC News.

“I believe that this fear of food allergy has become a self-fulfilling prophecy, because the food is excluded from the diet and, as a result, the child fails to develop tolerance.”

In the initial experiment, which was published last year, Lack and his team took more than 600 babies that had shown signs of being allergy prone, and split them into two groups – one avoided peanuts altogether, and the other was given small daily doses of peanut mushed up with other foods, to reduce choking risk.

After five years, they found that 17 percent of the children in the avoidance group had developed peanut allergies, compared to only 3.2 percent in the exposure group.

It was called a “landmark study” for allergy research at the time, but what wasn’t clear was whether the children would have to continue to eat peanuts daily in order to maintain the benefits.

So the team continued to follow 550 of the children from the original study for an additional year, during which time all of them were told to avoid peanuts entirely. By the end of the sixth year, the allergy rates hadn’t changed – only three of the children who had been fed peanuts as babies developed new allergies during the year off, but so did three of the children from the avoidance group.

“A 12-month period of peanut avoidance was not associated with an increase in the prevalence of peanut allergy,” the authors write in the New England Journal of Medicine.

More research needs to be done to establish exactly how much peanut paste needs to be given during that first year of life, but doctors have already begun to change their recommendations to parents.

“This new study is great because … it looks like the benefit [of early exposure] is essentially permanent,” Scott Sicherer, a paediatric immunologist and allergy specialist at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York who wasn’t involved in the study, told NPR.

Lack recommends that parents with kids already showing signs of allergies “consult with an allergist, paediatrician, or their general practitioner prior to feeding them peanut products”. But he encourages other parents not to be scared of giving their kids a taste of peanuts.

His team is now looking into whether the allergy protection will last once children are allowed to eat peanuts as little or as often as they feel like.

If that’s the case, it will drastically change the lives of the 20,000 babies – and rising – in the US and UK that are diagnosed with peanut allergies each year. “Taken together these are reassuring findings that pave the way to stem the epidemic of peanut allergy,” Michael Walker, a medical adviser to the UK government who wasn’t involved in the study, told the BBC.

Children With Pets Have Less Anxiety

Children who grow up with pets reap a variety of benefits. Studies show they have reduced rates of allergies and asthma, and they’re more compassionate and emotionally intelligent. And recently, researchers discovered yet another benefit to having pets in the home: They may reduce childhood anxiety.

During an 18-month study in upstate New York, researchers from the Basset Medical Center, the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center and Dartmouth Medical School analyzed 643 children to determine whether dog ownership affected certain aspects of kids’ health. Participating parents answered a series of questions about their children’s mental health, physical activity, body mass index, screen time and pet ownership, and researchers analyzed the data.

They found that while BMI, physical activity and screen time didn’t differ among children with or without dogs, those with dogs scored lower on clinical measures of anxiety. Twenty-one percent of kids without dogs met the clinical threshold to be screened for anxiety and other disorders compared with 12 percent of children with pet dogs.

When asked what kind of anxiety their children displayed, parents detailed several types that researchers say dogs can help alleviate.

“Significant differences between groups were found for the separation anxiety component (‘My child is afraid to be alone in the house’) and social anxiety component (‘My child is shy’) favoring pet ownership,” the study authors wrote in the journal Preventing Chronic Disease.

PHOTO FUN: 16 unlikely animal friendships

What is it about dogs that helps reduce childhood anxiety?

According to Dr. Anna Gadomski, one of the study authors, a pet dog can serve as an icebreaker and stimulate conversation, which helps relieve anxiety. Pets also provide comfort and companionship, which can be especially beneficial for children.

“From a mental health standpoint, children aged 7 to 8 often ranked pets higher than humans as providers of comfort and self-esteem and as confidants,” the authors wrote. “Animal-assisted therapy with dogs affects children’s mental health and developmental disorders by reducing anxiety and arousal or enhancing attachment. Because dogs follow human communicative cues, they may be particularly effective agents for children’s emotional development.”

But are dogs the only pets that can provide such benefits?

Gadomski says not necessarily, noting that her team looked at dogs simply because there’s already so much research on man’s best friend.

“It doesn’t mean that cats can’t do the same thing,” she told NBC News.

So if you’re a parent, here’s the bottom line: Your kid’s argument to get a puppy just got a whole lot stronger.

Woman Creates Incredible Disney Princess Wigs Out Of Yarn For Children Battling Cancer

Cancer is the worst, but one former oncology nurse is creating something beautiful to make it a little easier for children to battle. Holly Christensen made a yarn wig modeled after Disney’s Rapunzel for a friend’s child, and she was immediately inundated with requests from other parents. She told KTVA,

“Last fall one of my friends from nursing school, I found out their daughter was diagnosed with cancer. I knew having been a cancer nurse what she was about to go through.

“It’s so precious. She’s stroking her Rapunzel hair and she’s just like, ‘Pretty soon my hair is going to grow back and I’m going to have real Rapunzel hair.’ “

Since then, the project has grown substantially, with Christensen working with individual families and four local hospitals. She also has a GoFundMe page to help offset the cost and has tons of volunteers helping her create her bits of yarn magic. As The Magic Yarn Project grows, Christensen hopes to eventually form a non-profit and partner with Make-A-Wish.

“[The recipients are] going to be really sick, and some of them won’t make it. It’s really hard, but just to see that a little bit of magic can be brought back into their life, that makes a difference for them and it makes a difference for their family.”

It’s always encouraging to see someone take a terrible situation to bring a little light to those who are suffering. Here’s hoping that this endeavor continues to grow, making kids everywhere feel like the princesses they deserve to be.