Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, Ph.D.

I study people, technology, and the worlds they make

Category: Parenting (page 1 of 21)

“we are failing our children by not giving them the tools they need to properly navigate this scary new world”

Hollee (really?) Actman Becker has a great, heartfelt and smart piece about Instagram beauty contests (as terrible as they sound, read about them yourself), and the responsibilities parents have to helping their kids use technologies in ways that are smart:

we are failing our children by not giving them the tools they need to properly navigate this scary new world, and by not monitoring their interactions in this world closely enough once we do….

Because the minute we give our kids an iphone or ipod or any other gadget that puts technology quite literally in the palms of their hands, we become responsible for whatever happens next….

We potty train our kids, teach them good table manners, spend 10 minutes deciphering the food label on a candy bar before we let them eat it. And yet, we set our kids up on social media, and then for all intents and purposes, we hang them out to dry.

Checking our kids’ news feeds to see what they are viewing, scrolling through their profiles to see what they’re posting, investigating the people who want to follow them, finding out who they’ve given their password to and monitoring all of their accounts (because most kids have more than one instagram account in case you didn’t know) doesn’t make us helicopter parents.

It makes us smart parents.

As the father of a girl who just turned 14 yesterday, I say: Read the whole thing.

End of innocence, 2011 edition

My daughter, scrolling through the new Netflix for Kids: "Spongebob Squarepants? That's NOTHING like The Pink Panther! What are they thinking??" This algorithm sucks!

She also spent about 15 minutes this morning just browsing the titles, which is disturbingly like how I watch Netflix.

Quote of the day: On sleeping in the same room as the kids

From Gizmodo:

[G]oing on vacation is MUCH more stressful and emotionally draining than working. This is largely because I have to spend a full week sleeping in the same room as my children. You should only have to sleep in same room as your kids if aliens have invaded the fucking Earth and are trying to mow you down with their giant alien laserbeams. Otherwise, it should never be necessary.

My son at the Science Museum

Just came across this picture from their trip to England in April.

At the Science Museum
at the science museum, via flickr

British Museum and three others, plus a toy store

Today we took the kids to the British Museum, so they could see the Rosetta Stone and other Egyptian and Greek art (thank you, Rick Riordan!).

From today's visit to the British Museum
via flickr

They liked it, though the day was quite full, and they went straight to bed after they got home.

From today's visit to the British Museum
via flickr

I have to admit: after a month away from them, I’d forgotten how exhausting children are. I’ve had a month without kids for the first time in twelve years, and it’s incredible how much I’ve been able to think and read. I need to learn to protect my time and attention more in my normal California life.

After the British Museum, we went to the V&A, Science Museum, and Natural History Museum (all of which are close together, so it wasn’t that insane), and Hamleys, the huge toy store. Regent Street was beautiful this evening, though it usually is.

From today's visit to the British Museum
via flickr

When we got home, my son said, “It’s good to be back in Cambridge.” Brilliant.


My daughter asked if we could grill. When we told my son he said, “Grilling with who else?”

I do tend to cook for several more people than are actually here, no matter how many people eat.


Freedom! Horrible, horrible freedom!

Today, at long last, the kids went back to school. Peninsula starts late– I interpret it as yet another test of parental loyalty to the institution, a kind of Hell Week ritual– and this last week I’ve more or less played full-time dad.

Fortunately the kids are old enough to manage themselves much of the time, and if you get several of them together they’re pretty self-entertaining: on good days I could make a couple large bowls of popcorn, give one of them a watch and tell them not to bother me until lunch, and crank up the headphones. If you’re lucky, though, even then you can get to about 50% attention.

Not that I’m really complaining. While it’s never easy, it’s always worth it to be a parent, and I’m grateful to have the kind of life where I can devote time to them. And frankly, the world won’t end because I couldn’t focus enough to finish revisions to the social scanning article last week (the reviewers were pretty kind to me, so they shouldn’t be too hard).

Still, it’s nice to have the space to sink into a text and ideas.

[To the tune of Steely Dan, “Midnite Cruiser,” from the album Citizen (a 4-star song, imo).]

Unanticipated consequences of design decisions

I’ve recently been interested in the subject of unanticipated or unintended consequences. Most of my interest has been fueled by a sense that arguments of the “nobody could have predicted this massive, now-obvious consequence of actions I took” type are becoming more popular: think how often they’ve been deployed in the aftermath of the Iraq war, the financial meltdown, Deepwater Horizon, etc..

Of course, unanticipated consequences can be good things too, as I noticed this morning. We recently bought a new vacuum cleaner, one of the bagless cyclonic kinds with the transparent canister. I mainly liked the fact that there were no bags, and that it was less than 20 years old. But my kids turn out to really like too: so much so, in fact, that they’re actually cleaning their rooms when friends come over.

Why? Because as they vacuum their rooms, the canister turns into a “tornado of grossness,” as one of my son’s friends put it.

Making the canister transparent turns vacuuming into entertainment– and because it combines technology, loud noises, visual effects, and gross stuff, it’s irresistable to young boys.

I have no idea if the designers have kids, but: well done.

[To the tune of Rob Dougan, “Furious Angels,” from the album Furious Angels (a 3-star song, imo).]

This will not be me: Getting Velcro parents off campus

The New York Times reports on colleges’ development of rituals to essentially throw parents off campus after move-in:

As the latest wave of superinvolved parents delivers its children to college, institutions are building into the day, normally one of high emotion, activities meant to punctuate and speed the separation. It is part of an increasingly complex process, in the age of Skype and twice-daily texts home, in which colleges are urging “Velcro parents” to back off so students can develop independence….

Formal “hit the road” departure ceremonies are unusual but growing in popularity, said Joyce Holl, head of the National Orientation Directors Association. A more common approach is for colleges to introduce blunt language into drop-off schedules specifying the hour for last hugs.

This is not a problem I ever had. My freshman year at Penn, I took the night train from Richmond, leaving home at 4 a.m. and arriving in Philadelphia later that morning. It was great: few things could better mark the end of one phase of your life and the start of another. I don’t think my parents ever stepped foot on the campus until graduation four years later. And given how casual the kids are when we take them to camp, I suspect they’re going to want the same treatment.

[To the tune of Dengue Fever, “Seeing Hands,” from the album Venus on Earth (a 2-star song, imo).]

On my way to Asia

I’m in the Singapore Air lounge at SFO, on my way to Singapore and Malaysia. I’m spending a day with my dad and stepmother in Singapore (after 40 years as a professor in the US, Pop decided it was time for a new career challenge, and so took a gig in Asia), then on to Malaysia, where I’ll speak at a futures conference. I wrote an article [pdf] about the futures scene in Malaysia a year ago (it’s one of the most forward-looking countries in the world), and some of what I talked about is starting to brew. It’ll be interesting to see it first-hand.

This is an insane trip. My wife had to get up at 4:30 for the San Francisco Marathon, and the kids and I ran the 5K this morning, so we all bundled into the car before dawn, and fought out way to the Embarcadero. Miraculously I found street parking.


The kids enjoyed the 5k, though I think for them it’s not the running that they’ll remember but the number and variety of snacks, samples, juices, and smoothies that they were able to try at the end. When you’re 8 pain is temporary, but the memory of getting a Jamba Juice from a guy in a banana suit is forever.


Then it was back in the minivan, across town to Golden Gate Park, and to the finish line for the half marathon. We got there a minute after she finished, got some food, then headed back to the car and to SFO. Dropped me off, into the loving embrace of Singapore Air.

There are times when you’re made very aware of just how much your family makes your life possible. Exactly two months ago I was in London and Cambridge; now I’m headed to the other side of the world. Most spouses who have to deal with such schedules or who find themselves married to travel addicts take to drink. Next time, she comes with me. The kids have also adjusted well to having a parent away (heaven knows they’ve had plenty of experience), but I think it’s time to take it to the next level. They can find us on Facebook if they need instructions about how to use the stove.

I’ll be in Malaysia until Friday, then I fly back here, and the next day turn around and head for another gig in the Rockies. When it rains it pours.

Naturally I’ve got the mobile version of my life set up. And now that I have a 500 gb hard drive, I can carry pretty much my entire movie collection with me. Not like I need the distraction. It’s just nice to have. I think many travelers have one indulgence of this sort: my dad carries five times as many ties as he could possibly need, other people carry books, yet others pack extra clothes.

In many ways I love Singapore Air, but the one complaint I have about them is the absence of common space: on SAS or United you can get up and stand, which is essential for my sanity; Singapore doesn’t really have any public space, and they’re happiest if you’re just confined to your seat the whole 20 hours. This time, my patrons have put me in business class, which means I essentially have my own cabin. My hope is I can do some calisthenics in it without disturbing other passengers. Seriously.

Of course, as always, the main attraction for this kind of trip is the chance to get some serious thinking and writing done. I need to work more on my talk, but I’m also going to try to finish “Paper Spaces 2: Revenge of the Fallen” before I return home. I’ve really got all the material I need to get it done, and I can only re-watch Mission Impossible 3 so many times in one 24-hour period.

[To the tune of Pat Metheny, “Holding Us,” from the album A Map Of The World (a 3-star song, imo).]
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