Today many parents must grapple with the fact that their kids know more about technology than they do. On the one hand it’s nice to see our kids go beyond what we know. However, as Nerdy Dads we also understand the risks of technology. Since we have been around a bit longer, and have the grey hair to prove it, we know that tech is a double-edge sword.
For parents who don’t think of themselves as highly technical the fears can be heightened. This is understandable. As parents we want to protect our children. When we see our children using new technology we don’t understand we get concerned.
Kids today are growing up in a tech-first world. We cannot change that, but we can prepare and make sure we are well-educated on emerging technologies. This quick guide discusses how any parent, regardless of their tech experience, can educate themselves and their children on how to stay safe online.
What To Do When Your Kids Know More About Technology Than You
The first step is to start educating yourself. I’m not saying you need to go master programming or white hat hacking. You can take steps to improve your knowledge about computer security. Read up on how to create strong passwords, what constitutes proper online hygiene, and gain a basic understanding of the tech your kids are using.
No doubt your kids will likely master new technology before you do. That’s fine and as a techie dad I’m proud when my kids teach me something. Old dogs can learn new tricks on occasion, I guess. I do my best to keep up on the latest and greatest so that when I hear my kids mention something I have an idea of what they are talking about.
As a parent I’d encourage others to ask their kids about the tech they use. It shows you have an interest in their activities and also provides some good bonding time. What kid doesn’t want to teach their parent something new? It can be a source of pride for your child and an opportunity for you to learn.
Talk To Your Child About Risks
Tech has brought down barriers and boundaries that existed in the past. That is great! It has also provided bad actors with access to some of the most intimate and personal information about us. I don’t advocate for a “boogeyman” approach when discussing the risks of tech. Once your kids hit a certain age they will see past that act and make their own decisions. Rather, parents need to have open and frank conversations with their kids on the risks of tech.
It’s best to go into the conversation armed with facts and recommended best-practices. Explain the risk, provide a solution, and seek to understand your child’s point of view. The dialog can be simple:
- Risk: the new smart speaker you purchased is helpful, but is susceptible to hackers who could use it to make unauthorized purchases
- Solution: if you want to keep the smart speaker you need to secure it properly against hackers
- Child’s POV: do you understand the risks and why this is important to me as your parent
It’s worth mentioning that I don’t think every kid will be a security expert. That’s fine. It’s our job to communicate our concerns and ensure that our kids take the basic steps to stay safe. As we’ve seen countless times, if a determined hacker wants access to something they will find a way in.
Set Boundaries Together
You have one set of ideas about reasonable boundaries. Your kid’s likely have a different idea as to what’s acceptable. I’d actually be shocked if many parents and children see eye-to-eye here.
It’s perfectly fine if you don’t agree on what’s acceptable. That’s where conversation comes into play. Discuss the reasons for your beliefs and take time to listen to what your kids think. It may be that you don’t completely understand what they are using the technology for.
After listening to both sides you and your child can set reasonable boundaries.
When your kids know more about technology than you do the first reaction might be to use parental controls or monitor their online activity. Those are easy enough to implement and understand. This is certainly a solution to protect your kids from dangerous and explicit content.
Parental controls and activity monitoring solutions can be helpful, but I encourage parents to be transparent about the use of such controls. Explain why it’s important and that it’s for the child’s safety. Jumping right into remote monitoring may lead your kid to think you don’t trust them. If they’ve never given you a reason not to trust them this could lead to resentment.
I can’t say I completely envy the world my kids are living in compared to when I was their age. Today kids are exposed to technologies that would’ve made my young mind think I’d been sucked into a sci-fi movie. A big difference between then and now is the pressure to stay constantly connected and up-to-date on the “it” thing.
Observe your child in their natural habitat and you’ll likely see them texting while watching a TikTok with Pandora playing and homework on the desk. I have a headache thinking about it. American teens spend an average of 7 hours and 22 minutes in front of a screen each day. This doesn’t include time spent on homework. That is a mind-boggling amount of screen time and as parents we need to guide our children on acceptable screen time habits.
For any parent the advancements in tech are amazing, yet also make us worry more about our children’s online safety. It’s our job to first educate ourselves and then our children about how to stay safe online. For non-techie parents I understand this can be daunting. However, a lot of what I recommend involves open communication with your child. Listen to their input, share your own concerns and thoughts, and set boundaries together. Ultimately a clear dialog will help build trust with your child. When they trust you they will bring their problems to you (sometimes). That beats the alternative where trust is missing and your child fears bringing up any issue.
For parents just realizing that their kids know more about technology than they do I hope this quick guide gives you some pointers on how to manage the knowledge gap.