Mar 13

Raising a Generation With Different Norms

I am a technologist. I love technology. I am an early adopter. I love solving problems with technology. I even love discovering problems I didn’t know I had, with a technology that solves that problem.

But I am a parent of 3 kids. How do you teach them to relate to technology in a sensible and appropriate way? Especially when each generation uses technology advances so differently.

Let me explain with an example: Email

I fall into late Generation X. I grew up without the Internet, and by college, email was available and it was the norm. Today, my generation couldn’t tell you how often we check email. We have it open constantly – all day long. It is a primary and preferred mode of communication for pretty much all of our dealings. The phone? Too slow.

From what I can tell, the generation before me – Baby Boomers – do not use email all that much. My parents read & reply to email a few times a day. They have email and use it, and that’s about it. They certainly don’t live email the way I do. Their peers in office settings use it a bit more.

The generation after me? I hear they don’t like email. Too slow. They prefer social media messages, and text messaging. A year ago Pew Research found that the average 14-17 year old sent a 181 text messages a day. That’s over 5000 a month. Like with email for my parents generation, I know of and use text messaging. But certainly not 181 messages every single day. That’s crazy!

Separating Technology from Generational Differences

The goal is simple, right? Raise kids that are sensible, that are kind and compassionate, and listen well. Kids that work hard, and know how to maintain good balance with all of the weird stuff life throws at you.

I see things like 181 messages a day and get confused. My wife sent(*) me an article, Tweens and Texting by Maria Green who is having a similar struggle. Her kids were staying up late to send text messages, and the content of the messages was questionable. One of the commenters was shocked by the 5000 messages their kid sent in a month.

But if the content is age appropriate, and the kids are respecting their curfew’s, is 5000 messages in a month an inappropriate use of technology, or is it just a generational difference? How can you tell?

If Different, then When?

I’m inclined to say it is just a difference that we old folks will need to get used to. Which is fine until you get to the next tricky question. When do you let the kids have some of these technologies? There doesn’t seem to be a precedent. I had a computer when I was 6 years old, but not an email address until I was 18, and not a smart phone till about 30. We have an iPod Touch for our kids (ages 9 and younger) to use for playing games, taking pictures, making videos. It’s pretty awesome to see what they do with the photos and videos.

Our 9 year old reads lots of books (non fiction and fiction alike) and hasn’t quite made a jump to reading much online. So we have a little time. But he does like to look up Lego prices on Amazon. He’s done some simple text messaging already under close supervision, but it’s far from where we would let him have an account of his own. He’s just not that interested yet, and there are almost no people who he’d converse with. That’ll happen soon though.

And I wonder. When should we give him an account and let him spread his wings just a little further, while he is still under our roof and we can help him learn to use the technology sensibly?

(*) by text messaging!