Tuesday, August 23, 2011

MIT - Permission to Play: Game Changing Research

An interesting talk from MIT on the study of the American family and how its children play - adults are also included. Play has become much more complicated in the eyes of many parents who grew up (as did I) in a time where children could roam free around neighborhoods without fear of being harmed. Not so true anymore for most parents in urban areas, not to mention the role technology plays in isolating kids from social skills learning.
About the Lecture

Are there now too many issues attached to the practice of play for it to be just plain fun? Nickelodeon executive Jane Gould describes a study on kids’ play that reveals real tensions within the family on the subject. Although parents feel confused and conflicted, and kids stifled and controlled, families are managing to find some happy common ground as well.

Gould’s team spent an “entertaining and exhausting hot summer” traveling around the U.S., and camping out entire days with hundreds of real families to chronicle how kids played and to capture different family members’ take on their activities. Not surprisingly, parents wax nostalgic about their own youth, when play was reportedly much freer and imaginative. Today, these same parents feel the need to keep their children safe, and so confine them more to home, where children inevitably turn to digital entertainment that parents object to. Parents also admit to, and regret, the scheduling of play around their own and their children’s busy lives, and the need to cram education and other ‘purpose-driven’ goals into play. Kids resent play that is about an end result, and in a large majority, declare their preference for spontaneous play, outdoors, shaped by their own rules.

“Technology is both a unifier and divider,” says Gould, providing “moments of absolute closeness, and exasperation.” Parents worry constantly about their children’s exposure to virtual worlds and digital devices, while kids are unabashedly fascinated and excited by technology. Parents admit to using these devices as babysitters, and also note the power of online media to connect their children with friends, or to rich fantasy experiences. Parents “tell us they prefer their kids to engage in traditional play that engages the mind and body, and that their kids don’t know how to entertain themselves without technology,” says Gould. They believe digital fun substitutes scripted for unguided play, and therefore does not qualify as “play play” -- what parents insist they did when they were younger.

This parent cohort wants in on their children’s play, and the children more than welcome their participation -- as long as it does not actually translate to another aspect of supervision. Parents must put down the mobile phones, and mom should stop documenting the action “and just sit down and have fun,” say the kids. Gould eventually hopes to take the benefits of the digital structured world of play, and bring them together with the benefits offered by traditional unstructured play, and develop new toys, content and play experiences so parents can take advantage of what’s needed for these kids.”

Jane Gould is responsible for coordinating all consumer insight research for all Nickelodeon/MTVN Kids and Family Group assets, including: Nick Jr.; Noggin; The N; Nicktoons Network; Nick at Nite; and Nickelodeon's digital brands including AddictingGames, Shockwave and Nick.com. She is also responsible for conceiving and conducting strategic consumer research on behalf of Nickelodeon's production, consumer products, recreation and public affairs departments.

Gould, a nine-year Nickelodeon veteran, was most recently Director of Programming, Content Development and Research for Nickelodeon Australia. There, she was responsible for implementing several key research projects including: Brain Squeeze, a research project to generate critical data about tweens; and Australia's first research study into interactive pre-school television.

Prior to Nickelodeon, Gould was president and founder of Looking Glass Insights, Inc. in Australia where she provided personalized, strategic, results-driven marketing research and production services for clients including: ACMA; MTVN Australia; Nickelodeon; and Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Gould holds a master's of business degree from Queensland University of Technology, and a bachelor's degree in psychology from Macquarie University in Australia.

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