Technology has changed so much in the last two decades that it's hard to keep pace with all the developments. Twenty years ago middle school kids might have had one class on typing or word processing. A few lucky kids may have had a computer in their homes. Today, modern tweens have a footprint on Facebook, children have their own iPads, and teenagers hold study groups in chat rooms.
How on earth is a parent expected to keep up with all of this?
The technology gap between parents and kids is greater today than perhaps the gap that existed between any proceeding set of generations. Moreover, our methods of learning are incredibly different. When we were in school, we were more focused on tangible items: books, papers, construction materials, etc. We were also learning face-to-face, doing most of our tasks with other people.
Today, we find our children learning and socializing by virtual means. In a sense, their classes are held on the Internet with study groups occurring over IM. Sixth graders bring their own laptops to class and children as young as three are learning to use iPads and cell phones. As parents we feel like we have to go back to school just to learn how our children are learning.
How much does this gap really matter? A lot. Communication between children and their parents has been historically challenging, especially as tweens turn into teens. Putting a giant technology gap between the generations just puts more strain on those often tenuous relationships.
Before we throw our hands in the air in frustration and become lean back parents, remember the book by Robert Fulghum, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. It is time for us to engage with our own children and become lean forward parents. When it comes to technology, let us take the title of Fulghum's book to the next level.
Here are some tips on getting started:
1. Kids love to teach as much as they love to learn. Hold a technology learning class every week where you are the student and your child is the teacher.
2. Weekly learning topics can include:
a. How to set up a Facebook profile and privacy settings
b. What is Foursquare and how to use it
c. How to use Facebook for group chats
d. How to find and install apps
e. What is Formspring and what do people do on it
f. What is everyone using at school
g. How to play Club Penguin and Xbox Kinect and other games
h. What are some of the bad ways for using these apps and devices
3. Have your kids and their friends teach a larger class for other parents.
4. Have each of your children talk about what they like most and least about the technology they use.
5. Ask for homework (I know, this brings back bad memories of school, but suck it up).
6. During class, ask lots of questions including the safety, security, and privacy questions you know so well.
These are just a few ways to help you go back to school.
And remember, the best technology educators in the country are sitting down for supper in your kitchen every night.