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
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.’’
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