Inspiring Creativity

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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

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