General Observations

Broad thoughts about technology in the home.

Setting the Stage for Parent-Teen Communication

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Clear the Stage Before Communicating with your Teen

Parent-teen communication begins with setting the stage for real listening.  But the stage needs the props removed–computer screen, mobile phone, headphones–so you can start the dialogue in a way that encourages real listening. And as a result, you will teach your teen conversational skills that respect you and others. This is just one example of a Biblical lesson that Christian parenting can teach through online experiences (see https://www.christiantechkids.com/2016/02/11/using-your-teens-online-experience-as-a-bible-teacher/).  Consider these scenarios:

(Teen, still looking at keyboard)  But I shouldn’t have to mow the lawn…   OR

(Continues typing) But I shouldn’t have to watch that documentary with everyone… OR

(With headphones on) But WHY do I have to do that, Mom? (Leaning back, vaguely watching his screen.)

Two commonalities exist in the above scenarios: They occur while your teen is engaged with technology, and they result in the beginning of an argument. But not the classical kind of argument in which there’s an exchange of ideas and support for those ideas. Rather, the whiny kind, the negative kind.

Parent-Teen Communication Without a Screen in Between

Don’t compete with a screen. Or with headphones that are meant to eliminate ambient noise–you, in this case.  You must take the lead to avoid this interference, because your teen probably won’t–and will more likely see you as the interference.  Help your teen learn how to listen and make more effective arguments by teaching them to first disengage from technology. Tap his shoulder (if he can’t hear you through his headphones). Say “Let’s talk a minute”or “I need you now.” After you’ve made clear the need to talk, offer him a few seconds to break away from the technical task in front of him.  (Proverbs 15 reminds us “a patient man calms a quarrel”–so be patient!)

If you allow him to be online, it’s not fair to interrupt that at your every whim.

Help Your Teen Listen

If you allow him to be online, it’s not fair to interrupt that at your every whim. Most online activities involve a process. He can’t abruptly stop this process without error, aggravation, insult to an online team member, loss of one’s train of thought, or data loss.  You can respect your teen by forewarning him of your need to discuss something and then allowing him a moment to ‘get into position’ for that.

Now disengaged from technology, he can better listen to what you have to say. And he’ll be able to reply without distraction. Instead of appearing to deign to give you his time, he may be more fully attentive, a sign of respect (which you are attempting to teach him, right?). “Pay…respect to whom respect is owed” (Romans 13). You are teaching him to love you through action, not just words.

Both of you now fully present, a polite, clear and logical “argument” can ensue. You have helped him listen under authority–a useful habit for his long-term good. And quality parent-teen communication may prevent unintentional disobedience resulting from misunderstanding.

So take control of your parent-teen communications. Insist your teen first be free from distraction.  Only then can the full discussion–or argument–be most productive. And when your teen questions why he should have to take out the garbage today, you can look deeply into his eyes and give your most cogent argument:  Because I said so.

Using Online Experiences to Teach Biblical Lessons

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Remind Teens to Use the Bible as Their Compass When Online.

A teen who spends a significant amount of time online has direct knowledge of the “sins” of the web. Whether playing a game or using a forum to better learn Adobe Photoshop, he witnesses common transgressions such as pride, deceitfulness, and people who stir up conflict in the community. Is he prepared to discern those sins? Respond to them?

Here’s an exercise that may be useful to help your teen recognize and respond to the list of sins described by Proverbs 6:16-19.

Ask him to think about the biggest problem, sin, or negative issue he experiences online. [You may want to have him read Proverbs first, maybe even in various versions, to help something come to mind.] You don’t need to necessarily extract the example from him; let him stew on it if he prefers (unless he wants to share, which is great).

With his example of online negativity in mind, ask him to skim his Bible’s Concordance or Glossary to find keywords relating to that issue or sin. For example, perhaps he remembers noticing a troll online who causes trouble. He might come across the word “Overcome” (as I just did). He particularly notices the reference to Romans 12:21. He turns to it (as part of the exercise). Upon reading it he is reminded: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

In this example, he may more clearly see this online negativity as a form of “evilness” (badness of character in this case). And, as importantly, he is being reminded of a biblical response, which is being “good.” The Holy Spirit may help him discern that the behavior is sinful, that he can overcome it, and that his approach must involve his own goodness (versus responding to evil with evil).

Children’s Bibles [such as the Hands on Bible, Tyndale Group (NLT)] are good for this process because they often have a simplified dictionary/concordance, use common keywords, and exclude name/place references which are less helpful for this exercise.

An online corollary to a proud look referenced in Proverbs 6 could be someone who brags about YouTube ‘subs’ (the number of subscribers someone has on their YouTube channel).

A lying tongue shows up in online gossip.

One teen compares hands that kill the innocent to a large online following that sets out to destroy a smaller one out of spite.

Some online gamers have a heart that devises wicked schemes or feet quick to do evil. This is like players who quickly attack other players who interfere with them, even innocently.

A witness who tells lies has a modern online version too: telling lies to start drama between fanbases.

Some online communities begin to feel like extended family. Causing discord in family can be equated with hackers who post as the owner of a channel.

Many teens quietly struggle with online strife and insecurity because of the complexity and variety of the online “sins” they experience. Strengthen your teen for the onslaught by helping him connect his online experience to God’s message. Forearm him with a contemporary response based on eternal wisdom. Not only will it strengthen him, it will remind him who he is in Christ and support his developing spiritual identity.

Photo by cc - Using Online Experiences to Teach Biblical Lessons Sammis Reachers via Compfight

Are You Initiating or Influencing Your Techy Teen’s Interests?

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No Need for Him to Find His Technical Path Alone

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

Tracking Your Teen on His Technical Path

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Which Way is His Technical Path Leading Him?

Staples® may have an EASY button.  But if your teen has a technical bent you lack, a BEWILDERED button may feel more apt.  Wouldn’t it be great to punch BEWILDERED to call on little technical trolls who would direct your child  to the perfect next tool on their personalized technical trajectory?  Now that would be EASY!

So your teen is wading into technical waters beyond your own experience.  He is on a technical trajectory but you can’t see where it’s heading. Does the bright glare of the screen have you frozen in place, wondering how to direct him? (By “him” I also mean her.)  I have been there.  It is easy to distract for a day or a season with another field trip or an elective class. But then he is back, asking you how he can pursue coding, video game development, digital art, or animation. Or how he can take it to the next level. Is your “techy teen” (as I will call him) in limbo waiting for you to agree to a clear direction or next technical step?

He wants to build a Minecraft server; won’t that invite viruses into our home network? 

She wants to use Adobe Photoshop but I hear it’s complex; I wouldn’t know how to help her. And isn’t it expensive?

He is already coding in Python but wants to learn C. Is that a class worth paying for?

You Learn…to Help Him Learn

Your journey toward supporting your teen’s developing (or deepening) technical interests starts with a single step: into the muck. This post will recommend you wade in shallow but muddy waters for the foreseeable future—and don’t expect the gunk on your boots to dry.  Practice being tolerant of becoming more and more aware of knowing what you don’t know.

As a function of having regular conversations with your techy teen, it will be natural to hear from him about technical topics and inclinations you likely don’t understand. Interests that seem complex to explore. Or, he may already be exploring, and he may divulge technical dilemmas that are slowing down his progress.

Here’s a suggestion:  After one such conversation, spend about five minutes researching the topic at issue. Even if you only understand half of it, you will begin to gain a general understanding, a valuable foundation. You may even find the answer your teen is looking for (because of your more practiced research skills).  Later that evening you can share what you’ve learned.  And even if your teen corrects your understanding, it will begin to build a technical rapport between you. Let that conversation then direct your next fact-finding step.

Your Teen May Be Running…While You Are Taking Baby Steps

Through these iterations, you will come to realize the depth of your teen’s own knowledge about coding, 3D modeling, animation, motion graphics or digital art—and you will deduce other ways your teen needs technical (software or hardware) support. He may be trying to run at full speed, while you feel like you’re taking baby steps behind him. That’s okay, because no one learned how to run without taking those first steps. After all, it’s his passion, not necessarily yours. So forgive yourself for moving more slowly.  Because once you’ve taken those initial steps, you’ll find yourself moving faster and faster yourself.

To actually conduct your regular five-minute fact-finding forays, frame to yourself the clearest technical question that comes to mind, such as:

What does she mean ‘3D modeling?

Are there really free versions of some kinds of software—and what do I call that?

I don’t know the first thing about animation but that’s all he talks about!

Next, perform a simple online search to find an answer by keying in a keyword or phrase:

What is 3D modeling? Like this. The first entry may be a simple definition that answers your question or hints at what keyword you should research next.

What is free software called? Like this. You may need to scroll down a few entries to understand term distinctions. But you are off and running.

Difference between animation and motion graphics. Like this. You may find a Lynda.com training video or a blog that paints a broader picture of your topic.

By the way, don’t hesitate to use Wikipedia as a resource (surreptitiously, of course, so that you won’t undo all your training about requiring “legitimate” sources for his academic reports!).  Wikipedia often has lucid topic overviews that help you quickly grasp concepts and their constructs.  In the answer lie a dozen new questions. Accept that as inevitable.  Whether you have found the answer or found new questions, you will have learned something pertinent that may answer tomorrow’s question. Spend another five minutes the next day. Just enough to get a glimpse of the forest for the trees. Or just enough to see one tree, if that’s what you need. If you start feeling stressed after just a few minutes, stop until your patience returns. Eventually you will aggregate general knowledge about the technical arena in which your teen is playing.  And you will start to recognize potential next steps for him.

Keep Moving Ahead…Your Teen Needs You

Continue to venture out into the muck, despite your intermittent confusion.  As you eventually wade in deeper, you will begin to uncover resources that seem to fit your teen’s need.  Before you know it, you will have begun to understand the technical trajectory to which your teen is drawn (e.g., he enjoys coding, he prefers artistic programs, he likes creating digital stories, etc.).   And you will be moving in a positive direction. As his technical trajectory is revealed, you will be led to a deeper exploration of your teen’s thought processes, interests, capabilities, talents and dreams. It could help your teen discover the technical path to which God may be leading him.

I noticed a continuum of support that I was being called on to give as I facilitated my own son’s technical forays. You will probably recognize yourself somewhere on this continuum; it likely depends on your child’s age or his passion for the subject.   It starts at Initiator and ends at Influencer, with a morphing role in between.

To read about this continuum, see that post here.

cc - Tracking Your Teen on His Technical Path Photo by Steve Snodgrass via Compfight

A Little Byte: Curate

4187949970 224516613c - A Little Byte: CurateWhat do you see when you frame your family’s computer with your fingers and squint?  Seurat’s Sunday on La Grand Jatte? A chaotic Jackson Pollack?  A Steve Jobs original? A Disney collectible? Munch’s The Scream? It’s likely no two parents will agree on what having technology in the picture looks like to a child’s social, educational, emotional and physical development. For example, a reasonable amount of social time online for an only child may be different than for a child who has multiple siblings with which to interact. How do you need to frame and position your family’s use of technology so that it allows them to thrive? It’s easy to be the critic–much harder to be a curator.

Photo by cc - A Little Byte: Curate seyed mostafa zamani via Compfight

What’s Your Philosophy of Technology?

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Full of Energy!

What’s your philosophy of technology?

 I intend to ensure my child will never access a computer outside of the library!

 I keep my child so busy he doesn’t have time to desire technology.

 I despair that my child likes technology!

 I don’t mind that my child likes it; it won’t hurt him.

 It’s a technological age; I’m glad my child likes technology!

 My philosophy, today, is this:  It’s a technological age; I’m glad my child likes technology! And it’s also this: I despair that my child likes it!

These conflicting philosophies create a confusing duality for my son when I try to help him manage his technology time.

You want to learn Photoshop? No problem, enjoy! Show me later what you’ve learned!  

You want to play Minecraft?  You could be writing! Reading! Playing with an embodied friend!  Picking up trash in  the neighborhood!

I don’t think computers are inherently bad. Computers can be good, valuable, useful, and productive.  No doubt my mindset stems from my first association with a computer: It was at work in the early ‘80s.  Computers meant work. So when I see a child at a keyboard, I feel they are working when they could be playing or learning.  I sense a missed developmental opportunity.

Children today don’t yet make that association.  They see various forms of computers (desktop, laptop, tablet, smartphone, whatever) as fun tools.  Tools to communicate—call, write, tweet, post pictures and otherwise share.  Tools to play—games, music, movies, and videos. Tools to accomplish goals—make music, create art, achieve a game level, move forward as a budding entrepreneur.

But for me, seeing a child at a screen mostly prompts a negative visceral reaction.  My heart senses missed opportunity. I feel anxiety.  I want him to do anything else!  But that perspective, I have come to realize, is an artifact from my life’s experiences with computers. It is not my child’s experience with computers. He has grown up into a different world of computers than I did.

In my younger days there was plenty of time to play outdoors and plenty of kids to play with there.  In so many neighborhoods that just isn’t true anymore.  Children gravitate toward computers for play, for friendship, for competition, for involvement in the world into which they have been born.

When it’s time to work, they will simply use the same technology tools they played with as children, and life will have a certain flow to them it didn’t have for those of us who were already young adults when computers first expanded our worlds.

What’s your philosophy of technology?

Photo bycc - What's Your Philosophy of Technology? Vinoth Chandar via Compfight

The Night I Wasn’t Mad at Angry Birds

5560435682 bbc957b2a9 - The Night I Wasn't Mad at Angry BirdsBeing a sometime grouser around videogames, I was rankled when my husband launched Angry Birds™ on our 55-inch TV from Roku® during a Father’s Day visit by our children and grandchildren.

Couldn’t we pursue a more desirable activity together? I wondered silently.

But forbearance was called for; it was, after all, Father’s Day.

My stepson began earning points for destroying thieving pigs. Everyone huddled around the sofa, and good-natured ribbing ensued.  We shared strategy and silliness. We talked about the game play while the little ones hopped around simulating the action, wildly gesticulating in response to threats and successes.   We laughed a lot.  To my chagrin, we were sharing quality time together, making a memory.  Father did know best.

Yet, it wasn’t all furious fowl. My party planning earlier in the day had included laying out novelty toys that might catch the eye of a youngster: whirly-wheel, slinky, returning ball, stretchy string, jointed toys.  These objects of diversion contrived to create on my grandchildren’s inquiring faces momentary furled eyebrows, followed by looks of “aha!” and then wondering smiles.  I enjoyed watching these microcosms of individual fun in the midst of the group activity.  A mesh, jointed and beaded aluminum toy became a “real live squid” in an instant.

I have read that people are no longer content with being passively entertained. Video games are popular because they are more dynamic than watching television.   Add to the mix Slinky physics and imaginary squid and there’s no reason why a game of Angry Birds can’t be fun for everyone.   Even me.  While the birds may not have been laughing, we most certainly did.

In hindsight, it was a perfectly wholesome evening. What a pleasant surprise.

Photo Nick Chill via Compfight

It Doesn’t Just Have to be Entertainment

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Playing with the Glory of God in Mind

Today I earned the RCXD on Arms Race!”

“I enchanted my Diamond Chestplate to Bane of Arthropods!”

Consider listening when your child tells you about his last videogame session, as he inevitably will. Don’t shut down this byway of communication. It may sound like undecipherable mumbo-jumbo, but within his eager description is the seed by which you can mold his experience of solo entertainment into enrichment—and a pathway to contemplate God.

For example, say he just played Call of Duty II like so many preteens these days. You may have a documentary at the ready about WWII or tell him about a war in which a family member served.  Or, perhaps he just built a fire in Minecraft. That can lead to talking about your upcoming family camping trip, fire safety, and protecting God’s beautiful outdoors.  A week or month later, as he’s again playing, you can revisit key elements of that war video or camping trip you shared. This brings it to his mind again and helps him to retain it over the longterm.

Leaning toward science, when he mentions excavating iron, gold and diamond in Minecraft, you can show him the Periodic Table of elements.  Ask him on what day of creation God likely made all of these elements. You might mention that “some of what God created on Day One is what we are now made of—physical matter-energy, amazingly arranged in atoms and molecules that ultimately comprise our material bodies.”(1)   This is Bible and science extracted from a Minecraft experience. It’s relevant to something fun the child is doing, but it also brings the child into a new level of awareness about the game’s contents.

God has allowed the creation of videogames; you have allowed videogames into your home. God cares what your child is learning through gaming; so do you.  With your help, your child can learn to see the glory of God in his world of fun.

(1) Institute for Creation Research, Acts & Facts, May 2013, p. 11.

Photo cc - It Doesn't Just Have to be Entertainment Ángelo González via Compfight

Technology: The Childhood Distraction

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From Illuminated Screen to Illuminated Mind

Is it any surprise that technology has become as much a distraction for children (with their DSs, iPods and even iPhones) as it has for adults? How can children practice hearing the nudges of God—which may sound like help this friend, play happily in nature, read to learn what is true—when access to instant entertainment entices and ringtones beckon?

One way to help your children distance themselves from the siren call is to inspire them to engage in thoughtful activities. For example, show them a newspaper article you have read and cut out to share a memorable point. Let them read the picture caption and tell you what the picture means. Help them relate personally to what they’ve just seen.  Extend it by suggesting they look up a word in the dictionary (which often leads to finding other interesting words) or find related pictures in a reference book you own. Help them make connections, extract the interesting aspects for their level, and allow them to articulate their imaginative ideas or responses.   This process will help them create a habit of thinking more deeply about things.

For older children, a casual research process like this can intrigue them to learn online instead of play online.

You may also want to notice how much of their thought life you pay attention to. Notice and acknowledge when your child has formed a complex idea requiring focus. Sincerely let them know how interesting their comment was and encourage others like it. By talking with your children about their thought life, they will be encouraged by your recognition and probably attempt more of it. By engrossing them with thought, this will better inure them to distractions caused by available technology.

And finally, a vital  reminder: Set down your own technology while attempting these tactics.

Photo cc - Technology: The Childhood Distraction Steve Paine via Compfight