A quick search of Google will reveal page after page of articles about teens and technology – most of which will highlight the perils and pitfalls that face Millennials when they are deep in their technology and gadgets.
From cyber-bullying, text neck, and videos teens watch online, it’s all there, mixed in with the scary people in chat rooms to identity thieves who will ruin your life. But the reality is, technology makes our lives more efficient and productive, and allows for a level of communication and creativity that has never been available to previous generations.
As a parent, it’s sometimes hard to know what is appropriate for adolescents and teens when we as adults don’t fully understand the technology around us. As a witness to children learning to navigate not only the world around them but the technology that powers that world, there are a few things that my teens have taught me about technology, and this, in turn, has taught me how to be a better parent for them.
Technology Is Designed By and For The Young
I taught my daughter to use a spoon and she taught me how to use Snapchat. The problem with a lot of technology today is that it is so streamlined and efficient that much of it isn’t intuitive. Having a teenager demonstrate the basic functions of technology helps parents understand their thought process and how they approach the process of decision-making.
From a functional perspective, my teens have helped me clean up my hard drive, find and install apps to streamline my life, and fix my phone when it is mysteriously malfunctioning. My son has saved me hours of time at the Genius Bar by instinctively understanding why the spinning wheel of death is omnipresent on my laptop.
Asking my children to explain how to find certain hidden extensions on my hard-drive gives me a glimpse into how they visualize and conceptualize the world around them. What is their first step in the process? What are the key elements that they search? It also lets me fill in the gaps with information that they might not have considered.
Communication Technology Has a Hierarchy
It didn’t take me long to realize that teens have a certain order when it comes to communication technology. Voice mail and email are relics of the past, reserved almost exclusively for those born before 1990. Text messaging is a formal means of communication between Millennials – for example, as a way of confirming plans or sending a thank you note. Instagram is like putting on a fancy dress for a party, but Finsta accounts are the unfiltered reality of everyday life. Snapchat is how you stay in touch with people. Facebook is for group activities such as Fraternity or Sorority fundraises and study groups. Twitter is for news as it happens. The phone is used for emergencies.
Understanding how to communicate with my teens on their terms has allowed me to reach them – literally and metaphorically – and to see their world in their terms. It has given me an appreciation of the videos and shows that teens watch and why those videos are significant to them.
One Button Programming
Technology today seems created to skip over a step or to eliminate cumbersome details, but this reminds me as a parent to fill in the blanks for my children and make sure they understand that if you overlook details you may be missing out on critical information.
Even the most tech savvy among us will struggle with programming the TV remote or the garage door clicker that has to match different Bluetooth keys. While teens seem to have a knack for setting up one-touch programming, asking them questions as they do so reminds all of us to ask the relevant questions. Why are we doing this? What is the end goal?
Many teens and young adults today want it all immediately. They want one magic button to press for all the answers, without taking the time to understand what goes into setting up a streamlined and efficient life. Watching my teens program a television or set up an app shows me that they still take the time to follow instructions, and to attend to details. This gives me confidence that they will do so in other areas of their lives.
Technology is all around us, and devices that were once the domain of adults are now learning tools for preschoolers. As societal norms change and information becomes available at the push of a button, perhaps it all goes back to the values we learned as children; be nice, be kind, be thoughtful, be respectful. Those tenants apply, even when it comes to teenagers and their use of technology.