by August 7, 2014 • 9:44 am
I’ve been a tech geek since the 3rd grade, when my class was allowed to use the main school office computer once a week. This was way back in 1978 when computers were a luxury and there was only one in the whole building. The entire staff stopped work for a couple hours each Friday, so we could experience this emerging, exciting technology.
We went 2 at a time for 15 minutes, connected the computer to a modem via rotary phone and joined to a network where we could play simple games and write programs to create pictures on the dot-matrix printer.
Those weekly visits got me hooked. I begged my mother for the latest devices: Commodore 64, Atari 2600, Quiz Whiz, Speak and Spell. Even though she didn’t really understand how they worked, my mother got them for me because she understood how important it was to me to learn about them.
Now I spend most days in front of a computer writing blog posts, creating online videos, recording podcasts and managing social media accounts. Since online work has become second nature, I figured everyone understood this world as well as I do. After talking to other parents of tweens and teens, I discovered I was wrong. Parent after parent shared with me their frustrations with technology and how much they struggle to keep up with their kids’ social media use.
I realized that watching their kids on Instagram, Snapchat, Kik, Tinder, Twitter, must make them feel as ill-equipped as my mom did when she saw me spend countless hours writing BASIC programs on my Commodore 64. My mom, however, refused to throw her hands up in defeat. She would peek into my room with genuine curiosity and ask me what I was doing. I showed her my simple code and explained what it meant. Though she didn’t understand computer language, she was engaged, not afraid. She bought me programming books, listened to my ramblings about new projects and watched when I showed her the fruits of my labor on the monitor.
My mother never became expert in what I pursued. But her involvement and interest kept the doors of communication between us open. Her investment of time in me and my technology was the vital ingredient in our having real, mutually trusting conversations. Most of the parents I talk with have a Facebook account and watch YouTube videos periodically. But beyond that, they don’t interact online on a regular basis. So their children’s online activity worries them. But I don’t think parents have to use technology to the same extent their children do—they just need to be interested and to listen.
So to help other parents I developed a six-week class called Social Media and Teens: What Parents Need to Know. I’ve been teaching the class since January and have encountered parents with varying degrees of technical knowledge. Some are overwhelmed by technology and can’t keep up, so they bury their heads in the sand and hope their kids don’t get into any trouble online. Others hole up in the other extreme, forbidding their kids from using technology at all. My goal is to educate parents about a happy medium where they and their kids can use and understand technology effectively and safely.
But while I cover social media and technology in depth, I spend the majority of the class time showing parents how better to communicate with their kids. Because parents who have solid, trusting relationships with their children are given access to their children’s inner lives, and that’s where problems happen and can be headed off—and where you can learn about your children’s real selves, technology aside. So here are my top lessons:
Parenting digital natives can be tough. It was tough for my mother and I didn’t have a fraction of the technology that my kids have today. But the most important thing we can invest in our children is the most low-tech of all: our time and attention. If we listen more and learn enough about the technology they use, everyone wins. Result? You’ll enjoy closer relationships, online and off, with your kids. Bonus: seeing them share selfies on Instagram won’t make your heart rate go through the roof.