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Does Co-Viewing = Helicopter Parenting?

15 Mar

I came upon an article today in the Wall Street Journal called, A Field Guide to the Middle-Class U.S. Family. It outlines the research of Elinor Ochs at UCLA. Dr. Ochs is an anthropologist who, along with her team, set up a bunch of cameras and observers in homes to study the American Family. (That thought alone gave me shivers… I can only imagine how intrusive it would be for a family to be observed all the time, in daily routines!) The results are now in: We American, middle-class parents are leading child-centered households, where kids reign over our every move.

That point is not too surprising to me, but it did hit a nerve. It made me think about my own style of parenting, and my need to help my kids in every single way. Yes, I’m picking up after their messes, helping them cut their food, making weekend entertainment decisions based on what they would like. So I guess… that makes me a “helicopter parent”. (Pause here to let my reluctant tone set in.) But it also got me thinking about our family’s digital and media life, and my obsession with co-viewing and co-playing. There, too, our viewing and playing together is always based on the kids’ choice. Is this also “helicopter parenting“?

Part of it is about engaging in appropriate material with my children. For example, I’m not going to let my preschoolers take a turn in my very competitive Scrabble game via my iPhone app. I’m also not going to let my children co-view “Glee” with me. They are simply too young to engage in this kind of content. But that basically means that our co-viewing and co-playing come down to their own interests and content made for them.

So, dear readers, please help me out here. Do you think that co-viewing is a form of “helicopter parenting”? And if so, does it bother you to recognize that it is? Please comment!

Question: Did you co-view the Super Bowl with your kids?

6 Feb

It occurred to me sometime last night between Madonna’s halftime show and reading my Facebook news feed that there are a lot of parents out there who watched the big game with their kids. (Not in my home, by the way. My kids were in bed before any real action started, and we only checked in occasionally between breaks from watching a PBS documentary, because that’s how we roll.) I was chuckling at various pictures posted on Facebook with kids dressed up in football jerseys and eating chips and dip. It made me realize that the Super Bowl (and any other big sporting event) offers a great opportunity for family co-viewing. It’s a great way for parents to share their passion with kids.

It was all very innocent, until I considered the content of most of the ads during the Super Bowl. Remember those? Many of the ads during the Super Bowl are about beer, encouraging people to drink. Many of ads also involve sexual innuendo or portray women in a negative way. Yes, there are some family friendly advertisements that can be quite fun to share, but what about those that require some discussion?

Luckily, we have Common Sense Media in this world. They recently posted tips on how to discuss ads with your kids shown during the Super Bowl. They also presented this little research tidbit: “A study by the Center on Alcohol Advertising showed that 9- to 11-year-old kids had higher recall (73%) of the Budweiser frogs’ slogan than the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers (39%). And kids knew what the frogs were selling: 81% identified beer as the product promoted by the frogs.” But I’m going to guess that many parents out there did not have the opportunity to check this out.

Did you watch the game with kids this year? If so, please comment on this – how did you do it? Were there any discussions? Did you watch the ads together or simply use them as an opportunity to get more food, use the bathroom, etc? Did your kids have any questions about them? How old were the kids watching with you?

Cooney Center’s Report on Joint Media Education

3 Feb

Cooney JMEGood news, Co-Viewing fans! Last December, the Joan Ganz Cooney Center released it’s latest report, “The New Coviewing: Designing for Learning through Joint Media Engagement.” (To this Covert Co-Viewer, it felt like a holiday gift made just for me!) Chock full ‘o research, this one is worth downloading for yourself (here) and digesting in your own time.

On January 23rd, I had the pleasure of attending a panel presentation about the report hosted by Women in Children’s Media. While many aspects of the report were covered (you can actually watch the whole presentation here), my favorite part covered the case study of Electric Company’s interactive game, called Electric Racer. Simply put, Electric Racer is a two-person on-line literacy game, intended for children ages 6-9 and a grown-up to play together. Developed by the brainiacs at Sesame Workshop, it’s free and it’s focus on literacy should appeal to any parent hoping to connect with their child in that age group.

A nifty marketing video shows it best:

Researchers pilot-tested the game with parents and kids, and that process helped them tweak the product quite a bit. In this research, they learned that they needed better role clarification for both parent and child. In this case, the child is the “driver” of the vehicle, collecting certain words, while the adult must unscramble certain words to help the driver. (Roles can be reversed, of course, but this is how the game-play was intended.) Researchers also instituted a point system that allowed for more teamwork, but also showed how each player was performing. Finally, in-game instructional supports were added to remind players of their goal.

If you know of a 6-to-9 year old you’d like to try this game with, you can download it for free here!

Smartphone Co-Playing Continues

10 Oct

playscienceA new report entitled “Mobile Playgrounds: Kids, Family, & Mobile Play,” released today by PlayScience, a global research and development firm, confirming that co-playing between parents and kids is on the rise. The results are from an online national survey of 531 parents with children between the ages of 2 and 13.

According to the report, a whopping three-quarters of parents in their sample say that their kids have access to a smartphone at home, with one-third of 10-13 year-olds owning their own. Of course, those 10-13 year olds are more likely to have an ipod touch; the report states that half of their sample of kids in that age range owns one.

The results from this report are a bit staggering to me, and while PlayScience claims that the sample is “nationally representative,” I am dubious here. Just by making this survey online and not on paper would eliminate a good portion of the population which might not be able to afford technology like smartphones and ipod touches if they don’t have access to the internet to respond to the survey.

That being said, even if the numbers might seem a bit higher than a national representation, I did find one trend super interesting: apparently, Dads are getting into the act of co-playing by shelling out more cash for it. The report states that Fathers are more likely to spend money on apps than Mothers, paying an average of $0.45 more for phone apps and $0.75 more on tablet apps. Of course, this does not mean the Dads are actually playing more than the Moms (we all know that Dads are just suckers for spoiling their kids), but it does imply that they are interested in having their kids play more.

The take-home message is that smartphones and other touchscreen devices are certainly emerging as a new way for families to interact together. “Playing together is an important form of communication for families,” explains J. Alison Bryant, the President of PlayScience. “They are looking for new ways to have play fit into their hectic daily lives, and touch- screen, mobile devices allow for everyone in the family to play anywhere, anytime. For the industry, this means rethinking what co-play means, and developing games that pervade daily life and allow parents and kids to play together even if they are not in the same place.”

A family that plays together… stays together!

27 Sep

Oh blog… how I’ve neglected you! Not that I ever forgot about you (who could forget what joyous times we spent together in cafes while I was looking for a full-time job, just a year ago!) – it’s just that… well, things get in the way. But I promise to be better. Or at least try harder. I want this relationship to work!

Loyal readers of the Co-Viewing Connection know that I have a very busy life, which includes an awesome full-time job working at the Institute of Play, as well as two adorable preschool twins and a husband who provide me with never-ending adventures in the evenings and on weekends. I have been tagging some great blog post items left and right for months, but never seem to get to them. (To see most of them, feel free to follow  me – “Covert Coviewer” – on Twitter.)

One interesting find, however, definitely deserves some special attention. Family Gamer TV is a new series devoted to parents co-playing with kids. I watched their pilot episode, and found myself entranced.  

What a fabulous idea! I love the idea of a (relatively) newbie parent connecting to an experienced gamer to learn about great new games and gadgets. I also like that these dads took into account the ages of the kids to play with. Andy Robertson is a likeable host and I’m going to stay tuned for more… as should you!

“Co-Viewing” (and “Co-playing”) vs. “Joint Media Engagement”

9 May

looking up termsA few months ago, I learned about a new website about Joint Media Engagement (JME). This website – which goes by – is really considering the same stuff that I am: using media, technology, and digital experiences to inspire social behaviors and learning. (In fact, I was surprised to see on their “video examples” page they even have a link to the storyvisit video I made for one of my past blog posts!) The website comes directly out of a series of meetings conducted by The Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop and the LIFE Center (with support from the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation); these are names much bigger than little ol’ me! So perhaps a new movement is afoot. But the whole thing got me thinking about terminology. Is “Joint Media Engagement” really a better term than “Co-Viewing”?

I began this blog primarily interested in television co-viewing, as this is a large part of my personal research background. But as my career has moved into the digital world, I am continuing to post more and more about digital technologies and games that can create a sense of shared learning for parents and teachers with kids. I always have preferred the term “co-playing” to explain the gaming-side of using media with others. “Co-playing” shares similarities to “co-viewing” in that they both sound like something a parent or a teacher could accomplish. They sound friendly and fun. While the term “Joint Media Engagement” has the benefit of encapsulating the concept I’m aiming for here, I am wondering if the phrase sounds too much like an affliction than something which should be lighthearted and fun. What do you think? Is there a better term out there that we haven’t tapped into yet?

On that note, there was new research reported today coming out of UT Dallas about people who play EverQuest II, a massively multiplayer online (MMO) game. Apparently, gamers who play this game alongside family members saw an increased amount of family communication. Gamers who do not play with family members had the opposite effect; they spent less time communicating with their families. This is a small finding (and the quality of communication might be a sticking point), but for millions of parents out there looking for a way to connect with their adolescents, this might be their big ‘in’.

The big message to parents and teachers, no matter what term we use: Play together! Play with your kids! Play with your students! Get out there and explore the world of media and technology with someone you know and want to share things with.

Not Your Grandmother’s Skype

12 Apr

Video calling has reached a new level of normal. Not only is it perfectly acceptable to be using Skype in the workplace, but video calls have made their way into the home. Thus, every generation is being exposed to it, from Grandparents right down to infants. The youngest generation is not at all surprised by this feat in technology, but take it as a given that they can see the person they are talking to. Take my own children, for example. At three and a half years old, my twins have been using Skype to call their Grandparents in Florida on a regular basis. They love to sing songs with them and show them their toys. They are not unusual; most of my friends with young children and family far away have exposed their children to video calls on the computer. It’s become a new way to connect family from far away.

But two recent examples in my life are making me realize that this technology has expanded to be more than just useful for business purposes and Grandparents who miss their grandkids.

Example 1: Video play dates. Recently, my daughter’s best friend from preschool moved away. How did their digital-savvy moms decide to deal with it? Let them have a Skype play date, of course! I watched in awe as our preschoolers spent an hour with each other via computer, pulling out toys and sharing what they had. One would pull out a doll, and the other would scramble around the house to find a doll to show. One held up a blue bucket to the screen, and other would run about, searching for a similar blue bucket. It went on like this for sometime, and I was amused that these three-year-olds were able to make a game out of the technology, all on their own. At one point, they both held up toy cell phones to the screen, and started communicating that way, “pretending” to talk to each other from far away. How… post-modern?

Example 2: Skype in the Classroom. Not long ago, Skype announced a new feature: a social networking group for Educators, called Skype in the Classroom.  With this new network, teachers can find other teachers all over the globe who want to connect their classrooms via video conferencing on any given topic or subject matter. Teachers can also look for “experts” in any given field, and have them give guest lectures to their students. I particularly liked this one teacher’s explanation of how she found other classrooms to collaborate with about global weather patterns:

It doesn’t take much to realize that that video chatting is slowly but surely proliferating, beyond the far-fetched fantasy that existed in the “Jetsons” cartoons of my childhood. The learning opportunities are endless. It’s a great way for parents and teachers to help their children connect in new ways and learn about other people or other cultures.

Wanted: More Playful Parents

21 Feb

Dad girl videogameSome recent research has cropped up about co-playing video games that I’d like to share. Both yield some results that we can learn some lessons from.

First, a recent article in the Journal of Adolescent Health reported that girls benefit more than boys from co-playing video games. This article first caught my eye in a blog post by Geek Dad. The researchers surveyed 287 adolescents and their parents about their game-playing habits. First, analyzing all kids in the study, it was found that time spent playing video games was associated with several negative outcomes, including heightened internalizing and aggressive behavior and lowered prosocial behavior. The big difference came when looking at girls versus boys who co-played with parents: Girls who co-played age-appropriate games with their parents were found to have better behavior, felt more connected to their families, and had stronger mental health. Parents did not co-play very often, but when they did, it made a difference.

Another interesting piece about co-playing video games appeared on the Joan Ganz Cooney Center blog, where Mindy Brooks described some formative research being done on an intergenerational computer literacy game. According to her description of this pilot-testing, most parents did not understand their roles in game-play, and felt obligated to “teach” instead of play. The game producers revised the game to include a video tutorial at the beginning, a point system to monitor each players’ progress, and several clickable support items. These changes helped parents play more and teach less.

Taken together, these two recent reports indicate that parents need to loosen up! Playing more with your kids not only has positive outcomes for your kids, but makes your experience more enjoyable for yourself. Taking time out of your day to co-play video games with your kids – especially girls, apparently – has some very positive effects.

Cooking Show TV: A co-viewing profile of One Hungry Mama

19 Nov

lidia cookingThanksgiving is almost here. While families across the country are getting ready for the biggest home-cooking event of the year, I thought it would be an appropriate time to bring up a relatively recent phenomenon: Parents who co-view cooking shows with children. I first learned of this growing trend from an article in Parent Dish, where my friend Stacie Billis (a.k.a. One Hungry Mama) was quoted. Stacie and I first met when we were both in grad school at Teachers College (Columbia University) and working at Sesame Workshop. But, coincidentally, we also both attended Vassar College around the same time. While we both continue to have similar resumes (we both live in Brooklyn, we both have two children…), Stacie has a love for cooking that I simply do not possess.

Yes, I am one of those mothers who dreads the kitchen, simply because I feel it sucks up time and energy I don’t have. Stacie, on the other hand, embraces food with a passion. She began a blog called Chow Mama for Chow Baby Foods (a company she co-founded) and eventually moved to concentrate on her own blog, OneHungryMama.  In addition, her food and writing have been featured in Momtastic, Simple Bites, Stroller Traffic, Daily Candy Kids, NY Family Magazine, Healthy Child Healthy World,, and Babble, where she’s a staff blogger.

Since Stacie readily admitted that she often watched cooking shows with her kids (her favorite being “Lidia’s Italy“), I wanted to find out more about her co-viewing habits. Stacie’s background in developmental psychology and children’s media make her an interesting case study. Here’s a look at my questions with her answers:

Q: How did co-viewing happen for you? Organically, as in you were watching and your son just showed up? Or was it more purposeful, as in you wanted to specifically watch “Lidia’s Italy” with your son?

Stacie Billis: In general, I’m very conscious of and committed to co-viewing.  Here’s how I see it: if you watch television with your child and pick up on some aspect of the story, talk to them about it, repeat it and help them create connections between it and the rest of what they are experiencing through their day, you are supporting learning. And, by the way, though it’s powerful to sit next to your child and give 100% of your attention to what they are watching, I don’t think it always requires that much focus.  Obviously, I’ve given this a lot of thought. The funny thing is that, despite my careful intention around my children’s exposure to children’s television, co-viewing cooking shows happened by accident. I used to never put “adult” television on in front of the kids because the content is almost always developmentally inappropriate. But one long, winter afternoon, when my older son was about 2 1/2, it occurred to me that cooking television was the one kind of grownup TV that would work with my co-viewing principles. I wasn’t sure that my son would care or watch; I thought that he might experience my grownup TV as background noise. But he got totally into it, and there was tons of developmentally appropriate sights, sounds and content that we could build on. So, while it didn’t exactly start as an intentional co-viewing experience, it became one. A very rewarding one at that! Watching cooking TV, the Lidia Bastianich show on PBS in particular, became a Sunday afternoon ritual that winter.

Q: Do you co-view with both your kids simultaneously? If so, how does that work?

Stacie Billis: My little one is only a year old. He’s always around his big brother so when my older son is watching his TV, my younger one is watching, too. (Though, at his young age, “watching” means tuning into for a minute or so when something captures his attention.) The whole scenario makes for a hard balance, one that I haven’t found yet. And, truth be told, my first son didn’t watch any TV until he was 18-months-old. So, not only am I not thrilled that the little one is exposed at all, I’m also bummed that what he’s seeing isn’t exactly developmentally appropriate. But, it’s reality and he gets value out of engaging with and sharing an experience with his older brother/hero. For now, I’ve made it my job to pick up and build on details that are relevant to a one-year-old’s experience. Music. Repeating words that we’re working on. Identifying objects from his daily life. That said, since, at 4-years-old, my older son has worked his way up to an average of 20-30 min of TV a day–and that’s TV that the little one is exposed to in the background of his life–so I’ve cut out my cooking shows for now. The one-year-old has yet to see one. (I wonder what he’d make of them! My guess is that, at this point, it wouldn’t hold much interest for him.)

Q: Where and how do you co-view? Are you in the living room, or are you in the kitchen and cooking while you watch?

Stacie Billis: I’ve already admitted that I don’t always sit and watch TV with my kids with my full attention. But I do listen to most everything they’re hearing on the TV and I peek at them to gauge their reactions: what’s capturing their attention, what’s making them uneasy, what makes them smile, etc. These cues help me determine which story details I’ll extend through our day and in our conversation. I’m lucky to have a great set up for all this “eavesdropping”. I have an open plan kitchen that looks out into the living room where the TV is set up. So I can be busy cooking dinner (or cooking for work, as is often the case) and tune into my kids tuning into the TV.

Q: What do you say/ how do you interact? Is there something you like to focus on?

Stacie Billis: I really take my older son’s lead at this point, whether we’re watching cooking or preschool shows. He’s a very verbal child who likes to talk through the things that capture his imagination. I build off of what he says and asks. If it seems he’s zoning out or doing a lot of internal processing, I’ll check in by either asking a question or verbalizing a reaction (sometimes one that I imagine a little one might be working through, like: “Oh, I didn’t know that there are green, red, yellow AND orange peppers!”)

Q: Do you cook what you watch? Do you cook it with your son, or cook it on your own?

Stacie Billis: Sometimes I’d be cooking dinner while we were watching, but not always. And I had never cooked something that my son saw made on the show. Most of the times, my son was engaging with his play kitchen (which is in our living room). He was the one “cooking” alongside the television chef–not me!  It would have been great to make foods we saw prepared on TV but, because of the nature of my work, that never happened. I have a tight recipe development and editorial schedule from which it’s hard to stray. When I do, it’s because I’m experimenting with my own recipes. But, since there is so much cooking going on in my house all the time, my son is VERY familiar with dishes, ingredients and the general process of cooking. When we watched cooking TV together, he was able to make strong connections between what he’d seen on the screen and what happens in a real-life kitchen, even in the absence of making the exact dish.

Q: What would you like to say to other parents who are interested in co-viewing cooking shows with their kids?

Stacie Billis: I think that cooking television is a great opportunity for co-viewing, especially for parents who don’t have the wherewithal to sit and watch children’s television. I used to think that cooking programs would be unsatisfying for children since they cannot replicate the behaviors or make the recipes on their own. But the truth is that very few adults end up making the recipes that they see being made on cooking TV! It’s not about whether you have the time, skills, ability or access to make what you saw being made. Cooking TV is aspirational for most viewers, kids and adults alike! Plus, the host speaks directly to the camera; the setting is a single, familiar location; the tools and ingredients are an exciting combination of new and familiar; the process is clearly broken down step-by-step; and many actions, like chopping and stirring, can be replicated in kitchen play, a cornerstone of young people’s pretend life. There’s really a lot there for kids.

You can follow Stacie Billis on her blog One Hungry Mama, on Facebook, or on Twitter.

StoryVisit: A Report from the Home Front

7 Sep

From time to time, I will report upon how co-viewing is going on in my home.  While I am very interested in this research from an academic standpoint, I am also experiencing the realities of co-viewing at home.

This weekend, we finally had the opportunity to use StoryVisitStory Visit how toStoryVisit is a research project from Sesame Workshop and Nokia that connects friends and family in far-away places via the internet to read a book together. Essentially, this is simply combining video-conferencing with book-reading.  Ingenious, huh?  What’s even better is that it allows for far-away family (such as grandparents, cousins, parents and family stationed in war zones, friends who have moved away, etc.) with your preschooler.  This service is available for free at the moment while they are conducting research for it.  Naturally, ever since the project was announced I’ve been dying to try it!

For us, the big problem has been about technical difficulties. While I could get StoryVisit up and running on our computer just fine, my parents (the Grandparents) had difficulties with their browser using the site. (I am not sure why, but I was unable to troubleshoot long-distance, so it didn’t work out.)  I moved on to recruiting my sister to do this; she’s the Aunt who loves reading to my kids when she visits. Unfortunately, she did not have a web-cam! Alas, I tried one last time by recruiting my niece (an older cousin of my kids), who lives in a different part of the New York City.  Not exactly long-distance, but her parents are tech-savvy, own a web-cam, and my kids do idolize her, so it fit the bill.

One issue for us: Touchpad vs. Touchscreen confusion. My three-year-old daughter prefer to touch the screen than use the touchpad to direct the cursor.  (Seems as though they are confusing my laptop for my iphone!)  I really need to introduce a mouse to my kids, but have not gotten around to buying one yet.  What makes matters worse, the website encourages “touching” parts of the “page” (in other words, the screen), and even shows a finger popping up when you click on an object with the mouse.  Really this product would be best put on a touchscreen device.  (The creators are probably thinking the same thing, given that finger image that pops up.)  But having two screens with both faces viewing each other and the book is really fun.  We could take turn “turning” the pages and discuss what we saw.   My daughter LOVED seeing her cousin reading to her, and actively participated with very few prompts from me.  She also loved the animated Elmo, who appeared at the center of the book. (I found his movements somewhat distracting, however.)  I’ve included a short video of our experience here to give you a taste.

Storyvisit is still operating for free as a research project, so if you have a preschooler and someone far away who is tech-savvy, owns a web-cam, and likes to read books to them, try it out for yourself.  Please post your comments below to let me know how it went!

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