On the eve of Mother’s Day Weekend, I was able to interview one of the smartest and coolest working moms in journalism – Anya Kamenetz. Currently, an education correspondent for NPR, Kamenetz’s latest book, The Art of Screen Time, focuses on how parents can find balance for their family in our digital world. Anya talks tech, her new parenting podcast with Sesame Workshop and how running keeps her sane.
Anastasia Goodstein: We both wrote books on young people and technology. In mine, I was attempting to be a voice of reason during what felt like a moral panic around early social media like MySpace. Your book is also a balanced take on how to navigate the reality that screens have become heavily integrated into all of our lives (kids and parents). We’re also experiencing “techlash” as a result of how tech platforms failed to anticipate how they could be used for harm and have been slow to respond. As a mother of a 9-year-old now, not gonna lie, I feel more apprehensive about my daughter using these platforms then I did when I wrote my book in 2007. How have your views evolved over the past decade?
Anya Kamenetz: I came to this conversation via my coverage of innovation in education, from MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) to mobile for early childhood. I was increasingly intrigued by the disconnect between the shiny promises being made for kids and screens at school, and the dystopian fears around kids and screens everywhere else. I’m sure you’d agree that the entire zeitgeist has shifted toward a much dimmer view of consumer tech. Still, I hold fast to the idea that technology is an inescapable part of our world, and an indispensable tool for intellectual work, discovery, and connection. I believe it’s my job as a parent to model the positive, purposeful use of technology for my daughters.
AG: You have a new podcast with Sesame Workshop that focuses on difficult conversations parents have with their children. What topic have you struggled with most and how has the podcast been helpful in your own parenting journey?
AK: Wow. I have to say that I learn so much with every episode of this podcast, whether we’re sitting down with a Sandy Hook mother who has transformed her child’s legacy into one of love and courage or talking to psychologists about how to instill self-control. But if anything, one of the most challenging conversations we’ve had so far has been about race. This is a time when it’s incumbent upon white parents to really examine the messages we’re imparting to our children both with words and actions, and it’s very much a work in progress for me.
AG: You cover the education beat for NPR — what story or issue really stood out to you over the past year where parenting intersects with education and why?
AK: I’ve been musing on the national fascination with the admissions scandal, Operation Varsity Blues. Here you have parents who allegedly operated in defiance of the law and common decency, all in the name of doing “what’s best” for their kids. It’s easy to cast aspersions. Yet every parent is guilty at some point of trying to bend the rules to their own kid’s benefit, and I think that’s connected to the highly unequal and increasingly unethical society we find ourselves in.
AG: As working moms in media and today’s culture of hands-on parenting, we’re constantly juggling managing our careers with the additional mental load that comes with being an engaged parent. As a mother of two young children, a journalist and author, how do you manage it all and what tips would you share with other working moms?
AK: It really depends on the day! Well, we spend a lot of money on quality child care, and we have a nearby grandparent who helps a lot. I do make sure that I put my own needs on the schedule and in the rotation, and that helps keep me sane. I ran my first marathon just before my second daughter turned one, and I’ve registered again for the NYC marathon this fall. I was just reflecting on the madness of the fact that something as challenging as a two-hour run has become my go-to “break” from parenting and work, but it totally is.
AG: Do you have a favorite Ad Council campaign? 🙂
AK: Well, I have a whole part in my book about the genius of “Friends don’t let friends” and the way it changed public mores. I believe we need something similar for smartphones.