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.