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Where the Wired Things Are: A Day in the Life of a Modern Family

04/28/2011 11:30 AM
Vanessa Van Petten, Youthologist and Author

Description: Vanessa Van Petten bears witness to a strange new future rapidly becoming reality: devices and apps available for every aspect of family life. Her Radical Parenting website draws on the perspectives and insights of teen interns and thousands of correspondents (including frustrated and befuddled parents), so Van Petten can knowledgeably report that as home and technology intersect, relationships and the rhythms of daily life are shifting _ and not always in a good way.

In her surveys of hundreds of thousands of families, Van Petten chronicles how both parents and children increasingly integrate technologies into their day. She offers a 24"hour cycle, starting with iPod alarms awakening everyone, morning texting, iKibble tracking the dog's meals, and the family online management system that send chores and pickup times to kids' phones during the day. After school, mom makes playdates using Red Rover appointment software, while her youngest draws on the iPad. Older kids take up educational videos and software, or seek homework help on YouTube. High school age children use special apps for SAT prep, or Tigertext -- a system that automatically deletes texts from sender's and receiver's phones, and the answer to "snooping parents." There are fights at dinner over tweeting at the table. After dinner, there may actually be family time spent together playing Wii or Kinect, or watching movies. Van Petten recommends RunPee, an app "that tells you the best time to pee during a movie so you only miss the boring parts." Bedtime may be delayed by arguments over turning off devices, or kissing daddy goodnight via Skype (he's on away on business).

While Van Petten likes how technology makes everyday routine much easier to manage, and connects people at any distance, whether for social, academic or professional reasons, she is less enthusiastic about some other far"reaching and less obvious effects. Studies show kids that "jump from device to device" are exhausted by day's end, and spend less time daydreaming. Texting after bedtime, a very common habit, leaves kids overexcited and unable to sleep. And all those games and screen time render children unable to savor the deeper, richer play experiences, and also leave them feeling lonely and sad: social networks provide lots of "connections with no emotional value," says Van Petten.

She suggests establishing boundaries and balance in the home, such as "no electronics zones" and times set aside for creative electronic play, especially with parents involved. "A lot of parents feel they should be engaged, but that their child is in a bubble with the device," she says. Instead, they can be "bonding over a shared experience."

About the Speaker(s): Vanessa Van Petten is one of the nation's youngest "youthologists," or experts on parenting and adolescents. She wrote her first parenting book, "You're Grounded," from the teen's perspective when she was just 17. It won the Mom's Choice Award in 2009, and led to the launching of a parenting blog and national speaking tours, addressing what young people really wish adults knew about them.

Her blog, Radicalparenting.com, which she writes with 120 other teenage writers from ages 12 to 20, is read by thousands of teens and adults daily, and has been featured on hundreds of other parenting sites around the web as the only teen" written parenting blog. Her approach of bringing parents and teens together as well as adapting social and emotional intelligence for parents has made her a media favorite. She has been featured on CNN, CBS Miami and Fox New York. Her next book, What Your Teen Wants You To Know, will launch in September 2011 with Penguin Books.

Host(s): School of Humanities, Arts & Social Sciences, The MIT Education Arcade

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MIT World — special events and lectures

MIT World — special events and lectures

Category: Events | Updated over 2 years ago

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December 16, 2011 18:49
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