RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin.
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MARTIN: You can learn a lot about someone on a long car ride, especially if you turn the radio off and put away the smartphones. Sherry Turkle teaches social studies at MIT, and she says car rides are especially useful for parents trying to get through to their teenagers.
SHERRY TURKLE: The thing about a car ride is that it's one of the few places where you can slow things down because, you know, teenagers are - it's hard to talk to them. That's why they're so eager to reach for something that distracts them. And to have a conversation - which, you look out the window and exchange pleasantries and then gradually, you know, some little thing will come, and then you talk about that. And some other little thing will come, and you talk about that. That's how conversations start to happen.
And I think that that's very good for you, and that's very good for the children in your family, to realize that - what we're losing is just the sense of the pleasure of each other's company, and that that's part of conversation, too.
MARTIN: Today on the show, we've been looking at how technology affects our personal relationships. We're going to turn our attention now to the family dynamic. We just heard Sherry Turkle say that car rides are prime time to connect with kids. The other opportunity comes at the dinner table.
SUE JORDAN: I tried to keep these four men - boys - from eating, but they're eating.
MARTIN: This is the Jordan household. There's mom and dad - Sue and David.
S. JORDAN: ...the least techno-savvy person 'cause he never...
DAVID JORDAN: I can put it away.
S. JORDAN: ...answers his phone.
D. JORDAN: I can compartamentalize my life.
MARTIN: And five kids. Two off at college, and three still at home.
BRIAN JORDAN: I'm Brian. I'm 16.
KEVIN JORDAN: I'm Kevin Jordan. I'm 11 years old.
DAVID JORDAN: I'm David. I'm 13.
MARTIN: The Jordans are kind of a classic example of a family trying to figure out how to use technology without feeling disconnected from one another. We stopped by their house on Friday night as they were just finishing up a couple delivery pizzas.
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MARTIN: They have laptops. Everyone has a cellphone, although only Mom and Dad and the oldest kids are allowed to have smartphones. And they have an iPad that everyone shares although Sue uses it most, to connect with her daughter Kelly, who is at college in Pennsylvania.
S. JORDAN: Hi, Boo.
D. JORDAN: Did you eat yet, hon?
KELLY JORDAN: Yeah. You want to see outside? It's snowing.
S. JORDAN: Is it? Oh, you've still got your lights on.
MARTIN: Kelly, we should say, is a texting fiend. Once when she was in high school, she was sending around 15,000 text messages a month. Her parents had to take her phone away for a while, as punishment.
S. JORDAN: All right honey, bye.
D. JORDAN: See you later, honey.
S. JORDAN: I love you.
MARTIN: The Jordans don't allow their two youngest kids to be on Facebook, but they don't put limits on cellphones. The kids can use them anytime. And while we're talking around the kitchen table, 16-year-old Brian is quietly tapping out messages on his iPhone. I ask Sue and David if they have any concerns about raising kids who are so engaged with their devices.
S. JORDAN: The biggest limitations, that we talk about all the time, is just making sure that our kids still interact with each other and, you know - articulate in conversation with adults. And with our oldest son interviewing, you know, for jobs and things like that, we wanted to make sure that they had good eye contract and still maintained, and didn't get disrupted by this.
D. JORDAN: Granted, when we're all old and gone and buried and not - you know, they get hired by the next generation, it won't be as important. But for now, that's my concern - is it's a mix between, you know, having the technology, but you still have to be able to relate and interact with people.
MARTIN: Their son Brian looks up from his phone to respond.
BRIAN: Yeah, he says this a lot.
D. JORDAN: I annoy him with that. But hopefully, it sticks.
BRIAN: Yeah, I mean, it makes sense. It gets a little old after awhile, but...
MARTIN: After the kids disperse, I ask Sue and David if the technology makes parenting tougher, in some ways.
Do you think it ever gets in the way of really figuring out what's really going on in your kids' life?
S. JORDAN: Oh, I think so. I mean, I think it can 'cause you don't know. Things can happen so quickly, like you said. Like, they could come home happy and then all of a sudden, things are upset because there was an exchange on the phone or something, that you're not aware of. You know, when we were growing up, it had to be a phone call into the house - like, you could isolate what happened in the last hour because they didn't talk to anybody, they didn't see anybody. Here, you have no idea how fast their world's going.
D. JORDAN: Well, in some ways - though I remember growing up, though, too. At dinnertime, Dad, Dad - up, how was your day? Fine. And no one ever - we didn't really give information. They just - you said, dinner was fine. Whether it was good or not, everything was fine. So...
S. JORDAN: But I can say - do you remember when our daughter did have an issue with her phone, and we took it away? As devastating as that was to her, wasn't that the best time with her?
D. JORDAN: Oh, yeah.
S. JORDAN: She sat with us and talked to us, and looked at us...
S. JORDAN: You know, and it was the age, too. But I did enjoy that.
MARTIN: The Jordans settle into a Friday night ritual.
D. JORDAN: Don't lean back.
S. JORDAN: Kevin, come here, honey.
MARTIN: They sit down in the living room; TV is on. Sue's oldest son, Brendan, calls from Chicago.
S. JORDAN: Hi, Brendan. Hi!
MARTIN: The two younger boys fidget on the couch. David does some channel surfing on the TV, while 16-year-old Brian sits at the far end of the couch, still tapping out messages on his phone.
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