GEEK! Gen­er­a­tion

Can’t work your smart­phone, iPad or HD LED TV? Then get the res­i­dent tech­nol­ogy ex­perts to help – yes we mean your chil­dren! By Lisa Salmon

Friday - - Society -

Un­less you work in IT, chances are that your kids will be more com­fort­able with com­put­ers and hi-tech gad­gets than you. A re­cent re­port by Of­com, the in­de­pen­dent reg­u­la­tor and com­pe­ti­tion au­thor­ity for the UK com­mu­ni­ca­tions in­dus­tries, found 46 per cent of par­ents agreed that their child knew more about the in­ter­net than they did, and now new re­search shows par­ents are turn­ing to their chil­dren for lessons in tech.

Dubai-based Pra­soon Kumar ad­mits it was his 12-year-old son Dhar­shan who helped him choose a smart­phone when he wanted to up­grade his mo­bile. “He knew the fea­tures and the ad­van­tages and disad­van­tages of al­most all the phones on the mar­ket,” the 45-year-old fa­ther says. “In fact when I went to pur­chase the phone, even the sales­man was im­pressed with his knowl­edge of the gad­gets on dis­play. It made sense to go with his choice.’’

Fa­ther-of-five Ahad Suroopra­jally also re­lies on his chil­dren to help him un­der­stand mod­ern tech­nol­ogy. “Chil­dren to­day are a lot more tech savvy, as they have grown up with the lat­est gad­gets and are sur­rounded by them at home and in school,’’ he says.

“We have four com­put­ers and four iPads in our house. The kids are never with­out a gadget, so if I want to know some­thing tech­ni­cal – the best app to down­load or ser­vice to use – they’re def­i­nitely the ones I go to.”

Ahad, 45, says his nine-year-old son Habeeb is the only per­son in the house who re­ally un­der­stands the TV con­nec­tions as they are so com­pli­cated, so he sim­ply tells him which film he wants to watch and Habeeb streams it from his mo­bile to the TV. “You teach your kids

ev­ery­day life lessons, but the ta­bles turn when it comes to tech­nol­ogy,” he says.

“I used to be asked by my par­ents how to set up the video recorder, but there’s just so much more kit around to­day.”

Dr Onita Nakra, coun­sel­lor at the Amer­i­can School of Dubai, be­lieves chil­dren are more com­fort­able us­ing tech­nol­ogy and hi-tech gad­gets be­cause, “The modal­ity of mod­ern tech­nol­ogy lends it­self well to a gen­er­a­tion that has been raised on a con­stant diet of en­vi­ron­men­tal stim­uli, rapid shifts in tasks and short at­ten­tion span.’’

She says that there are many adults who use tech­nol­ogy in a much more dis­cern­ing way than chil­dren, but there is a dif­fer­ence in the way chil­dren ac­cus­tom them­selves to it. “Young chil­dren adapt to tech­nol­ogy al­most in­stinc­tively be­cause they are born into it.’’

Tech savvy, but at what cost?

Chil­dren de­velop ex­tremely pow­er­ful vi­su­alspa­tial skills. They tend to be able to ro­tate ob­jects in their mind – some­thing that many adults strug­gle with – which helps them look at prob­lems from dif­fer­ent view­points and find more so­lu­tions. This is a very im­por­tant skill when work­ing with tech­nol­ogy, but it can come at the cost of sac­ri­fic­ing a healthy way of ac­quir­ing in­for­ma­tion, says Dr Nakra.

She be­lieves that chil­dren learn to skim browse and scan text, but in-depth, con­cen­trated read­ing skills are af­fected. “What is wor­ry­ing is when skim­ming be­comes the child’s dom­i­nant mode,” she says. It seems the cost of be­ing tech savvy is sac­ri­fic­ing crit­i­cal think­ing, imag­i­na­tion and re­flec­tion.

In­ter­est­ingly, bust­ing the myth that males grav­i­tate to­wards gad­gets more than fe­males, many par­ents say girls are as fas­ci­nated by giz­mos and gad­gets as boys.

Dubai-based Kristin Joseph* has ex­pe­ri­enced her chil­dren’s thirst for tech­nol­ogy first-hand. “My five-year-old daugh­ter wanted her own iPad mini be­cause her 10-year-old brother and all his friends have one and she didn’t want to be left out.”

While she down­loads Barbie makeover games on it, she also loves play­ing Clash of the Clans with her brother and now knows how to

‘Young chil­dren adapt to tech­nol­ogy al­most in­stinc­tively be­cause they are born into it’

use an iPhone 5, which is cause for con­cern for 38-year-old Kristin.

“She can also down­load apps, and she and her brother have racked up bills on iTunes be­fore we re­alised and deleted our credit card ac­count to the store,” she says.

And it’s not just tweens who know how to use the lat­est tech­nol­ogy. This year’s Of­com re­port found that more than one-third of threeto four-year-olds are go­ing on­line us­ing a PC, lap­top or net­book, and 6 per cent use a tablet.

The study of more than 1,000 par­ents re­vealed that 67 per cent of them have asked their teenage chil­dren for tech­nol­ogy-re­lated ad­vice, and 41 per cent of mums and dads trust their chil­dren to give them ad­vice over friends, part­ners and col­leagues.

But it’s not just on the com­puter that par­ents need help from teenage tech ad­vi­sors. While 44 per cent of those stud­ied have asked their teenager for help us­ing the in­ter­net, 41 per cent have re­ceived ad­vice about how to use the TV or homeen­ter­tain­ment sys­tem and 17 per cent of par­ents needed help set­ting up their so­cial me­dia pro­file.

Kristin wasn’t sure how to re­act when her 10-year-old son helped her set up her iPhone 5. “He took one look at it, fid­dled around with it for a few min­utes and presto, it was up and run­ning per­fectly and he’d even posted a pic­ture of him­self – a selfie! – as my wall­pa­per. He also down­loaded some apps, had all my so­cial me­dia pro­files work­ing and ex­plained how to use it all. It was in­cred­i­ble.’’

Techno tweens

Mae Mo­ran, aged 11, is a tech-savvy pre-teen. She helps her mum with gad­gets in­clud­ing her mo­bile, cam­era and TV. “My mum re­ally strug­gles with the dig­i­tal re­ceiver box,” says

the young­ster. “She hasn’t worked out how you pre­re­cord stuff and has deleted my pro­grammes off the box be­fore, which is an­noy­ing.

“I thought I’d bet­ter teach her the basics. I’m the one who tapes stuff for both of us us­ing my mo­bile. Be­cause we use Mi­crosoft at home and Mum has it at work, I’ve synced up all our de­vices so it’s a lot eas­ier to save doc­u­ments and share stuff like pho­tos and fam­ily birthdays.”

Learn­ing the basics

UK-based com­puter whizz Ai­dan Thread­gold is help­ing techno­phobe par­ents learn the basics. The 18-year-old gives ad­vice on the web­site www.quib.ly and has just set up his own busi­ness, Nous Ed­u­ca­tion, us­ing com­put­ers to record teach­ers’ feed­back to pupils at school.

The teenager stresses that not all par­ents are techno­phobes. “It all de­pends on the in­di­vid­ual par­ent, and whether they’ve put the time in to learn to use the com­puter, DVD player or what­ever it might be,” he says. “You get some par­ents who are re­ally tech savvy and other par­ents who don’t know how to turn a com­puter on, of­ten be­cause they haven’t tried.”

He says many older adults see com­puter tech­nol­ogy as more of a tool for of­fice work, while peo­ple younger than around 30 see com­put­ers as a way of ac­cess­ing so­cial me­dia, pho­tos and films.

It’s a way of life for chil­dren, with many 10-year-olds own­ing an iPad, smart­phone and even hav­ing Face­book ac­counts, de­spite the fact the site states that ac­count hold­ers must be at least 13 years old.

Thread­gold sug­gests par­ents should make the ef­fort to ask their chil­dren to ex­plain how gad­gets work. “When your kids have left home and aren’t on call for you to ask about how some­thing works, what will you do?” he asks.

“A lot of older peo­ple are re­luc­tant to en­gage with tech­nol­ogy – they should let their chil­dren teach them.”

That way, as well as be­ing able to use tech­nol­ogy for work and en­ter­tain­ment in­de­pen­dently, par­ents could also un­der­stand what their chil­dren are do­ing on­line and check that they’re us­ing tech­nol­ogy safely.

Will Gard­ner, chief ex­ec­u­tive of the UK-based char­ity Childnet In­ter­na­tional, which aims to make the in­ter­net safer for chil­dren, uses the term ‘dig­i­tal na­tives’ to de­scribe young­sters be­cause they were brought up sur­rounded by tech­nol­ogy, while he calls the older gen­er­a­tion ‘dig­i­tal im­mi­grants’ be­cause tech­nol­ogy is rel­a­tively new to them.

“We have to en­cour­age par­ents to find out more about what their chil­dren are do­ing on­line,” he says. “If the kids are us­ing a so­cial­net­work­ing site, get them to show you around it if you’re not us­ing it al­ready.

“There’s lots of ad­vice out there and your chil­dren, the dig­i­tal na­tives, can help you, the dig­i­tal im­mi­grants, nav­i­gate the in­ter­net too. Par­ents are faced with chal­lenges all the time, and tech­nol­ogy is one of those chal­lenges.”

A re­cent Of­com re­port found that more than one-third of three- to four-yearolds are go­ing on­line

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