[This blog post originally appeared on Good Digital Parenting.]
Managing a household was challenging enough before we were engulfed by a tidal wave of consumer electronics. But now, it’s no longer enough to know how to cook a good meal, wash and dry clothes, build a kite, or fix a bike. Kids expect parents to properly configure a router, set up complex home entertainment systems, figure out why Windows is so slow, and help download the latest new apps to smartphones, tablets, and all too soon, wearable electronics like Google Glasses.
Technology can be threatening to parents for a number of reasons. The persistence and pace of technological change is daunting, particularly for parents who are already overworked. The speed with which kids adopt technology and their fascination with it can be a little frightening. And the risk of technological misbehavior or mistake is yet one more for parents to worry about.
There’s no way to eliminate those concerns entirely. For better or worse, computer technology is here to stay, and it will be an increasingly important aspect of our children’s lives. The main goal — which parents ask me at lectures all the time — is how to keep up with their technologically-savvy teens.
My recommendation: if you can’t beat ’em, hire ’em. Instead of trying to fight your child’s innate fascination with technology (“Resistance is futile”), make them part of the solution. This approach offers a number of potential benefits, including:
Improved Communication about Technology Use. By involving your child in the care and maintenance of household devices, you open up numerous opportunities for low-tension conversations with your child about how household devices can and should be used. You can learn about what your child is doing without being confrontational, and you can answer questions (maybe not all of them comfortable!) about your own device usage.
Responsibility Can Encourage Maturity. By involving children in the care and maintenance of household devices, you can help them develop a sense of responsibility and maturity. The reality is that kids are adept at using technology, and it is affirming to them to have the chance to show what they can do.
One Less Thing to Worry About. By in-sourcing your household’s technology wrangling to your kids, you can enjoy some much-needed help at a very reasonable cost (sort of free). As devotees of technology, your kids will be motivated to do a good job, and if they don’t, there’s a simple solution: less technology.
To be clear, I’m not advocating that kids be given complete free rein over all household technology. Kids still need to be supervised and educated about how to use technology properly, even if they’re really deft at setting it up. Parents also have legitimate zones of privacy of their own, so passwords are probably a good idea (after all, you probably don’t want your 14-year-old having unfettered access to your bank account or credit cards). But I do believe that kids can be effective and helpful partners on the technology front. Think of it as a bit of parenting jiu-jitsu: using your children’s strengths to help accomplish goals that will benefit you all. They’ll be proud of what they can accomplish, and you’ll have a better idea of what they’re doing.