• Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Interview with Neha J. Hiranandani, Author “iParent: Embracing Parenting in the Digital Age” & More

Explore insights from Neha J. Hiranandani on parenting in the digital era, cyber challenges, and her book 'iParent.' Exclusive interview on Frontlist.
on May 13, 2024
Interview with Neha J. Hiranandani, Author “iParent: Embracing Parenting in the Digital Age” & More | Frontlist

Neha J Hiranandani has spent the last two decades working on development issues, with a focus on gender equity in various organizations, including the United Nations. She completed her undergraduate degree with honors in international relations and English literature from Wellesley College, and has a master’s in education policy from Harvard University.

Neha’s columns on social and economic issues have appeared in several prominent publications, including Indian Express, Huffington Post, NDTV and Vogue. Her first book, Girl Power! Indian Women Who Broke the Rules, was a national bestseller.

Frontlist: Your background is quite diverse, with experiences ranging from working with UNICEF to writing columns for prominent publications like The Indian Express and Vogue. How have these varied experiences influenced your writing style and the topics you choose to explore?

Neha: I’ve consciously chosen diversity in experiences because life becomes like a kaleidoscope – shapes, narratives and colors that were complete in themselves are placed alongside others, and then the whole picture changes! That’s really how it’s been to have these different experiences – each of them was unique in itself, but they have also contributed to creating a larger picture. And it is from that larger picture that one can draw inspiration. I think my time at UNICEF was particularly impactful because it allowed me to spend time in different corners of the country, in little towns and villages, and everywhere I looked, there was a story waiting to be told! 

Frontlist: Transitioning from writing columns to authoring books, your debut book "Girl Power!" became a national bestseller. What inspired you to delve into the world of book writing, and how does the process differ from writing shorter-form content?

Neha: Every piece of content – whether it’s writing a novel, a newspaper article or even a reel on Instagram – has to follow a narrative arc. And so in that fundamental sense, there is a similarity. Obviously, while writing a book, the research effort and writing time takes on a different scale. But regardless of scale, ultimately, it all comes down to something quite simple and fundamental – can you tell a story?

As far as writing iParent is concerned, the inspiration for it came unexpectedly. My daughter’s school had organized a dress-up day where the kids were asked to dress as an important character that had made history. I asked my daughter, Zoya, what the popular characters were, expecting to see many kids dressing as Mahatma Gandhi or Mother Teresa. To my mind, these were people who had shaped history. ‘Not really, Mom,’ she replied. ‘A lot of people are dressing up as MrBeast.’ When I heard her answer, the penny dropped and I realized that we are witnessing a new world order. Our kids are living in a parallel universe from us. Right from what they find interesting to who they find inspirational is different. And so this book became an exploration of their online world, that borderless playground where our kids make friends, negotiate conflicts and discover love. It became an attempt to join the kids in their web. And incidentally, the kids in my daughter’s school were on to something – MrBeast just made the cover of Time magazine!

Frontlist: In your latest book, "iParent," you discuss cyberbullying, Internet addiction, and other digital challenges facing children today. How do you navigate these complex issues in your book, and what strategies do you offer for parents to ensure their children's safety and well-being in the digital realm?

Neha: Our kids are digital natives, born with a phone in one hand and a tablet in the other. Most of them were handed a device before they could walk; they clicked and scrolled before they took their first bite, tapped and dragged before they said their first words. With every move posted online, their digital footprints follow them like live locations from platform to platform, pinging and beeping as they navigate this web. It’s as though humanity has moved to a different planet in a single generation. Reports suggest that the average person checks their phone twelve times an hour. Our phones have become news dispensers, social connectors, entertainment boxes, educators, porn portals and personal secretaries – all in one device. That’s massively convenient and hugely addictive at the same time. With this addiction comes a tsunami of mental health disorders, especially for girls and women. And addressing these issues has never been more important. The book discusses many issues and their potential solutions, but here’s a simple one that I think is relevant to us all: minimize multitasking. We’re all constantly multitasking, but every time we switch from one task to another – moving from WhatsApp to email to skimming Insta and then switching to a news portal – we lose something. Humans weren’t built to multitask, and this constant switching comes at a cost, most likely brain fog. WWILF or What Was I Looking For? That’s the question many of us ask ourselves when we are lost in our phones, roaming around directionless in that endless space between WhatsApp, social media and the boss’ email. Most of us can’t remember what we had intended to do when we picked up our phone in the first place. Our brains weren’t designed to constantly juggle balls like circus performers. Don’t force your brain to multitask. It’s like asking a fish to climb a tree.

Frontlist: With the rapid pace of technological advancement, how do you stay informed and up-to-date on the latest trends and developments in parenting? Are there any resources or communities you rely on for information and support?

Neha: The pace of the advancement is something completely unprecedented. I remember that I had just finished writing a chapter on the impact of the internet on education. The finalized chapter had been submitted to the publisher when I had to literally recall it and throw it into the trash bin because ChatGPT had come along and literally transformed classrooms in one week! When I sat down to rewrite that chapter after the advent of ChatGPT, I remember holding my head in my hands and laughing, thinking that it was impossible to keep up! But for those who are interested in at least trying to keep up, I have a foolproof way: ask the kids. They are true digital natives, and they know more about the latest tech than any tech post, blog or journal. Plus, most of our children are just waiting for us to ask because what’s better than showing your parents how much they don’t know! 

Frontlist: As a global nomad who has lived in several countries, including India and Dubai, how has your multicultural background influenced your perspective on parenting and technology? Are there cultural nuances or differences in attitudes towards parenting that you've observed?

Neha: While cultural nuances exist, I think technology has flattened many of them. While some nuances exist, many aspects of human socialization, including parenting, have assimilated into much more of a global culture than ever before. A parent may be raising a child in India but following parenting influencers who live in the UK or Australia. Or it could happen the other way around, which explains why so many babies in the Western world are having ghee as part of their first food! With technology seeping into every aspect of life, parents across the world are celebrating similar wins and struggling with similar problems. Cyberbullying, social media overuse, gaming addictions – these are things that almost every parent with an internet connection is dealing with – no matter where they live. And although this might seem ironic coming from the author of a parenting book, I think the one pandemic that almost all of us are facing is the pandemic of overparenting! We’re parenting too hard.

Frontlist: Looking ahead, what are your hopes for the future of parenting and education in the digital age? Do you think cultivating and creating the joy of reading for children can help them? How do you envision your work contributing to a more informed and empowered generation of parents and children?

Neha: I am very hopeful because GenZ is truly an incredible generation – they are the planet’s first truly global generation. Look, every generation has its dreams, but this is the first generation that sees that we have to look beyond our borders; they see how interconnected the world has become and that one nation’s problem is the planet’s problem. They intuitively understand that the biggest crises – climate change, for example – can only be solved through collective action, and frankly, GenZ are champions at convening stakeholders from across the planet and advocating for change. It’s an honor to watch them in action. Of course, there are pitfalls –technology fuels endless comparisons and competitions, which also makes GenZ an anxious, vulnerable generation. This is where I hope my work comes in – it’s not about providing a cookie-cutter solution to parenting a digital generation, but it’s about starting the conversation.   

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