Alt-Ctrl Parenting

On, kids enter a virtual room that's linked to real-life chores.
On, kids enter a virtual room that's linked to real-life chores. (Images From
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By Monica Hesse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 28, 2008

Like a knockoff Mary Poppins, she magically appears with a carpetbag, a pair of spectacles and a slight accent, the way that all child-care providers must in this era of "Supernanny" and "Nanny 911." "Relax," she intones calmly. "Nanny's here."

Nanny is the newest face of outsourced parenting. She arrives not at your doorstep but on your computer screen, as part of The site, launched last month and originally developed for families with ADHD children (but don't we all have an attention deficit these days?), is a Web tool that turns household management into a Wii-like experience -- remote access and avatar children.

"Give Nanny 20 minutes and she'll give you peace of mind," says the beginning of the site's four-minute introduction video. (We are noting that replacing "Nanny" with "Xanax" throughout most of the intro does not at all change its effect.)

What follows is a presentation for a brilliant program that appears to allow you to never talk to your child again. For just $9.95 a month!

How This Can Be:

Have a chore, message or aspirational goal for your child to accomplish? Send him a note via Nanny's parental control panel. To receive it, your child must simply go to his room, log onto Nanny's Circle on his computer, then go to his virtual room, then log on to his virtual computer (in the virtual room), then read the note.

After finishing the task, your child checks it off on a virtual chore chart. When you log back on, you confirm the chore was completed with your own check mark, allowing your kid to amass points to decorate his or her room. (The virtual one).

Old way: "Madison, did you feed the dog like I asked?"

You see the appeal. It's tidy. Parenting, a messy series of weary battles that never seem to lead anywhere, becomes something that can be checked off and filed. No back talk. Just hit "send."

It's not a totally new concept. Sites like Cosi and Fircle have marketed themselves as online family schedulers for several years.

But those sites basically look like digital day planners -- online versions of the paper things we already used -- meant to be visited but not hung out in. Nanny's Circle is built for lounging: children's rooms on the site come equipped with televisions, journals and trunks full of games. And, of course, that computer, which makes a visitor feel like he is in not Second Life but Third Life, in an online world in an online world.

So far the site serves just 200 families. But one should never underestimate the desperation of harried parents: Cosi, which launched in 2006, has more than 600,000 users.

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