Parents can learn a lot about this brave new world from the digital experts lounging on the couch in the living room.
Shoelace tying? Check.
Table manners? Check.
Road safety? Check.
ABCs? Basic math? “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star”? Check, check and check.
Most parents are confident teachers when it comes to the basics, but in a quickly evolving, ever-changing digital world, the basics aren’t what they used to be. If you consider that your average American teenager has never seen a cassette tape or a phone attached to a wall, it’s easy to grasp how dramatically the world has changed. For those of us older than 30, it also means we’ve had to learn and relearn so very much in so very few decades. And it can be exhausting.
“Sometimes, I want to cover my ears and hum a little song,” says a mom to two teenage girls, both active web and gadget users. “I can’t keep up and half the time I don’t even know what they’re talking about. I cling to my old style flip phone out of fear that I’ll never be able to figure out the new ones.”
If an MPEG means less to you than say, an M&M, you are not alone, nor are you helpless. The answer to that and other technology questions is literally at the end of your apron strings. Just ask your child! Parents can learn a lot about this brave new world from the digital experts lounging on the couch in the living room.
It comes as little surprise: contemporary kids and teens have literally been raised on technology and even the youngest of children adapt effortlessly to it. Consider the baby trying to “enlarge” the pages of a print magazine by swiping her fingers on the page. Kids are born scientists, born explorers and examiners of the world. From the moment they can grasp an object, they are naturally inquisitive and as any parent who has yelled “not in your mouth” knows, they are fearless in their experimentation. They are not limited by the threat of failure; they meet challenges optimistically every time.
“The other day, I heard my son barking orders at the TV; I thought he’d gone mad,” said another mom. “Apparently, he enabled something on the game station that means he could just tell the machine what to do. Who knew?”
Kids know, that’s who. Touch screens are second nature, and voice commands seem obvious. Little of it is scary; it’s just fun. Children have unlimited expectations of what their gadgets and computers can and will do – and they are eager to master them, and in many cases, create new ways their machines can perform and create. While many of us would rather stick to the tried and true, our kids bravely wade into the wonderful unknown. If we want to make sure their travels are safe, we should probably be prepared to follow them.
Teenagers are by far the most actively engaged users of connected devices. From game playing to schoolwork to communication, they have not known a world where information has not been handheld. While we might use tech tools in limited ways to improve on modern living, today’s teens consider technology to be the core of modern living. They are familiar not only with text speak and other social media shorthand but they also understand (sometimes without even realizing it) the basic structure of computing language. They are relentless troubleshooters who’ve rarely met an error message they can’t quickly solve. They are active self-learners, quickly mastering new programs or devices without ever glancing at a guidebook or set of directions.
In her article, “Teach Your Parents Well,” Susan Kaiser Greenland, author of The Mindful Child, explains how her teenager’s technological literacy enhanced her own. Rather than always tackling problems linearly, she learned that non-linear learning – jumping from link to link, from a song to a video -- to gain and gather knowledge and information was just as fruitful. She learned to relax around social media, lessening her self-imposed pressure to respond to everything and obsess over every post or comment: her kids could take it or leave it so why couldn’t she? Texting taught her that short, frequent communications can be really effective with teens (and some adults too), and that self-editing in all communication is never a bad idea.
Indeed, we can learn a lot from our children. If we follow their lead with technology, we might not operate under the assumption that one mistyped key could blow the whole thing to smithereens. We might become more creative, bold and optimistic and who knows, we might have a lot more fun.
The next time you sit at the laptop attempting at last to learn to edit those old videos or download your address book, remember what your son or daughter might do – and then boldly go and do it.
Woopid offers parents video tutorials on many aspects of Hardware, Software and the Internet: http://www.woopid.com/channels.php
Middle-schoolers in Summit, NJ say “parents need to get a clue: http://thealternativepress.com/columns/lcjsms-panther-pulse/articles/parents-need-to-get-a-clue-about-technology
In her TED talk, child prodigy Adora Svitak argues for “reciprocal learning” saying that parents can learn as much from kids as kids can learn from parents: http://www.ted.com/talks/adora_svitak.html