As I wrote in my previous post Tracking Your Teen On His Technical Path, the course your techy teen takes to follow his technical bliss requires different levels of attention from you as parent. I noticed changing aspects to my own support of my son as he progressed. I see it as a continuum. You will probably recognize yourself somewhere on this continuum; it likely depends on your teen’s age or his passion for the subject. It starts at Initiator and Ends at Influencer, with a morphing role in between.
INITIATOR – YOU DIRECT & LEAD
At the beginning of the continuum, you as Initiator are directing and leading your teen either in response to his interest or your own desire to see him explore technology more deeply. You are directing his choices and activities. In this scenario you or someone in your teen’s social sphere directly introduces a program, game, tool or technical concept. You invest your time to launch him, whether it is with Minecraft, for example, when they are younger, or with HTML because you hear it is useful to know. You place him at the beginning of a path and watch his reaction. You initiate a current of activities through your permission and encouragement. As Initiator, you are presenting him with technical opportunities to explore, and you help propel him forward.
Being an Initiator is common when your child is young, when he is first being introduced to technology (maybe because he finally has access to a computer), or when you want total control of his direction. The child’s maturity and self-initiative play a role. You may find yourself an Initiator for extra-curricular technology projects, academic reasons, or both.
Being an Initiator takes patience, because you are actively engaged in his technical exploration which may progress in fits and starts. You will find yourself inclined to praise effort and success as encouragement. Encouragement should be sufficient to pique his interest or challenge him onward, but not so much he retreats. If you go into this committing the outcome to the Lord, He will direct your steps (Prov.16:3).
At some point, your child or teen may want to move forward faster or follow a different path altogether.
He may be asking for more involved interaction with a program, e.g., to set up his own Minecraft server rather than just play on someone else’s. Or, perhaps if he is feeling bored with Photoshop, he expresses an interest in adding to his 2D design skills by looking into 3D designing. Or, if he has used HTML but wants to learn something different, he decides he wants to pursue Python or Java. At this juncture, your role on the continuum is morphing. One day you will find you have moved on to become an Influencer.
INFLUENCER – GUIDING AS NEEDED
At the end of the continuum is Influencer. You may guide or counsel your techy teen as he presents a problem case to you. You help him consider options, consult, and caution him as needed. You may help him deliberate about what he is learning or his practice options. You make recommendations for new software or hardware (which you can do since you have been learning a little bit every day yourself). You steer him in a direction that is suited to his personality and character. But mostly, you are hands off any direct support. You are acting primarily as a guide; he is leading himself.
This place on the continuum is best when a teen is clear in his goals and able to pursue them maturely and independently. He is a self-directed learner and makes good decisions. He has earned your trust and has shown responsibility. He still may be pursuing his technical ambitions for either extra-curricular reasons or academic ones.
The important support you can offer at this stage is help in reasoning and analysis. He may be presented with a design problem and you offer insight to help him arrive at his own conclusion or decision. You may motivate him to set clearer goals. If he has already begun a small shop online selling graphic designs or YouTube “intros,” you may need to help him sort out customer service problems. You are still available to set any necessary limits.
THE PATH OF PROGRESS
By moving along this continuum, a technical path or trajectory for your teen reveals itself. For example, your teen may transition easily from video game playing to video editing—then from video editing to try his hand at digital art. That would likely lead him to Photoshop, which could move him later to an interest in 3D modeling. Seeing 3D modeling makes him aware of scripting languages and system programming languages. He decides to try his hand at coding, first with a scripting language like Python and then to C, a system programming language. He may discover he doesn’t like coding but prefers Photoshop and 3D modeling, so he returns to them with determination. He asks to take more art classes to become better with digital art software. He has landed on an interesting technical island for the interim.
When my son decided to start learning the programming language C# (“C-sharp”), he asked me to learn a language too. I liked the idea, because it would naturally draw me closer to the challenges he would face learning programming. I selected Python, because I had learned in my five-minute-per-day-incremental-research that Python was a commonly-used language that required fewer lines of code to achieve the same end (because it is a ‘scripting’ language). It still gave us new language concepts to share at dinner. We compared notes about the punctuation that goes at the end of each line. We discussed how integers were scripted in Python compared to C.
On this path, your teen will learn concepts that extend what he is learning in math (vectors; X, Y & Z axes, etc.) and grammar (syntax of coding, parsing, etc.). Foreign languages will seem less intractable because he is selecting command choices based on the requirements of his new computer language of choice. Science is more intriguing as he realizes he needs to learn about RAM and ROM to make sense of his software’s technical requirements. Comprehension is practiced because he’s reading technical manuals or blog posts about a program he wants to use. Writing essays may include topics related to his technological experiences and tools. Motivation becomes more intrinsic, because he is intrigued by his own exploration, which spurs him forward on projects of his own design.
How does understanding this continuum help you? You recognize when to direct him and when to let him run. This freedom allows him to gradually explore more and more on his own creative terms. It provides a technical education on his own terms too. It will be a wonderful complement to his regular education (not that you can really separate the two).
In Chip Engram’s book Finding God, he references Psalm 32:8 to declare: “I assure you that if you will come to the place where you are honestly willing to do whatever God directs you to do, he will show you what to do 100 percent of the time.” It strikes me that this is true even in technical support of our teens. If you sense God is supporting your teen’s technical interests, He will show you what to do, whom to ask. God already knows all about Python and Minecraft servers and system programming languages. He is not behind the technology curve. He will point the way for your family to learn, both children and parents, that which is useful to your education, mission and lives. He will counsel you with His loving eye on your family. Don’t forget to ask Him every day what you need to know. Let Him select your Google searches, and in no time you will find that supporting your teen on his technical path is what you never thought it could be—EASY.
To read the first blog post of this two-part piece, click here.
Photo by Wade Morgen via Compfight