Introducing Children to Technology

Here is a somewhat interesting topic: how do you as a parent introduce your child to computers and technology? Let me preface this by saying that I have no children, and I don’t plan having any for quite some time. The way it worked in my family (and I think the way it works in most families) is that kids figure out technology on their own, and then they teach it to the parents. My dad is pretty good with hardware and electronics so he could probably build a computer given the right parts, a decent manual and enough time to figure it out. Using that computer on the other hand is a whole other ballpark.

So kids learn technology in a somewhat chaotic, random manner. Or rather, those who don’t exhibit the geeky drive for tinkering and learning figure it out just enough to get by. And thus we have a whole generation of people who can use MySpace, webmail email of some sort, Facebook, p2p, iTunes and not much else. They end up in the same boat as their parents, not knowing enough about technology to teach their kids – so they more or less let them figure it out on their own.

This is not the case for us. I assume that most people who read my ramblings here share my passion for technology at least for the most part. We are in the unique position of providing a structured, well rounded technology experience for our children. We can expose them to different systems, different computing paradigms, and instill strong electronic security and privacy related instincts. So even if they choose not to follow us into the science and/or technology field, they at least won’t be lusers and noobs.

For example, I would love to raise a child in an operating system agnostic environment. The kid could be growing up using 3 or 4 major operating systems simultaneously gaining appreciation for all of them, and forming informed opinions about them. I don’t care if they develop strong affinity for windows, as long as they have spent equal amount of time on linux and unix based systems.

What I hate the most is the annoying Windows user who have never used anything other than WinXP, never heard about unix and yet he will claim that he hates Macs because they are stupid. I don’t want my kid to be that guy. Hell, I don’t want your kid to be that guy either.

I like to think that parents have a huge influence on your values – especially the ones instilled early on. If we start from a very early age we might have a chance to produce individuals who not only have strong sense of morality, but also are religious about backups, privacy and encryption.

Has anyone ever tried doing that? Did it work? Have it failed? Is it possible to raise a child to be competent and cluefull even if they do not show special interest in technology? Or is this just wishful thinking on my part?

[tags]education, children, technology, security, backups, os[/tags]

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7 Responses to Introducing Children to Technology

  1. Matt` UNITED KINGDOM Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    No idea if it’s possible and it’ll be a long time before I get a chance to experiment for myself, but I hope I can impart at least a little techy wisdom when it comes to it.

    Although before that time rolls around the technology will probably have gone through a great leap forward or several, leaving much of what we would want to teach the little ankle biters now obsolete. Speculation is too often doomed to failure, but I think it’s entirely possible that in the future, as hardware limitations become more or less inconsequential, encryption and security could become seamless, possibly coupled with some kind of bionic human/machine integration thing…

    Or it could all be the same as now, but running a little faster and looking twice as shiny :)

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  2. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux says:

    Well, I’m 26 right now. I don’t think we will have any major paradigm shift in the next 20 years. And if we do, I will probably be in the loop and will be blogging about how the damn n00bz are abusing it for stupid shit. ;)

    Seriously, I don’t think that once I hit certain age I will suddenly lose interest in gadgets and cutting edge technology. So I still should be able to impart some useful knowledge on my kids.

    Oh, and even if we get some insanely advanced science-fiction like technology I believe that security will still be piss poor. I mean, look at the Wi-Fi situation. It is almost ubiquitous right now, and every wireless AP has at least 2 or 3 encryption algorithms built in. All you need to do, is to set them up. And yet, few people ever do.

    Sad part is that most people are perfectly content to have their SSID to be Linksys or NETGEAR, which btw, is also their router login and password.

    I just hope that when we get brain implants, the software for them will be written with the same kind of high standards as the avionics software that is used in aeroplanes. Otherwise it would really suck to get your wetware infected with some nasty trojan which keeps you up at night showing you pr0n and viagra ads on hour internal HUD.

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  3. jambarama UNITED STATES Epiphany Linux Terminalist says:

    I was raised similarly – my dad knew some stuff about early DOS, and when Windows came out (1.0 was my first Windows version) I learned it myself. My family also had fairly permissive rules about control of the family computer. The only limits were how much of the HD you could consume, my brother and I got 40%, so I could install pretty much whatever I wanted.

    My father was also pretty open about other changes. I could partition the hard drive, install linux and a bootloader, and as long as Windows was primary there were no problems. So I messed around with slack as a teen in the 90s when just getting X up was a chore.

    You did touch on another soapbox of mine though, which I’ll have to be brief about. When people are taught applications – they’re screwed. We need to teach (or people need to learn) the concepts behind the apps we use. No one thought DOS would go out, no one thought WordPerfect would go out, no one thought Quark would go out, no one thought the toolbars in MS office would leave – but they all have. And people trained to use those apps or gui devices, are screwed because they didn’t learn what the apps are doing.

    If a school offers a class specifically in powerpoint, great teach the app. But I tremble with fury everytime I’m in a school teaching MS Word specific stuff in a general course. Kids need to learn Word, but they should learn word processing first. If you teach kids to use several word processors, they’ll figure out what is common to word processing and what is unique to Writer, Abiword or Word. If you make a kid write a paper in Word, they’ll learn Word. There is no need to teach them an app – teach them what the app is doing, and they’ll figure out how to make the app do it.

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  4. Ian Clifton UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux says:

    People who aren’t really “into computers” always seem confused when I say that I use a Microsoft keyboard with the “Mac” at work. If I mention that I have WindowsXP and Linux on my laptop, I usually get confused stares, though I did once get someone whose eyes opened wide and said, “Wow, you must really know about computers!” No, I don’t really; I just know more than the average person, just as I know more about mechanics/cars, art, etc. but I am certainly no mechanic and quite far from a “real” artist.

    I became interested in technology because of games. Once I was building my own computers in high school, it was all about squeezing that last bit of extra power out of a CPU or GPU or whatever. Eventually it led to other things. I’m naturally curious, so things like Wikipedia are essentially black holes that I have a tough time getting out of.

    How to introduce your child to technology? I think that will happen on its own and I think that if you use OSX (or whatever it is then) and some flavor of Linux, you are more than covering the important areas. Windows will be on most school computers for the foreseeable future.

    And jambarama, I totally agree about teaching apps. Classes should be about teaching people how to figure things out themselves by giving them ground knowledge. It’s more important to know how to use a dictionary than to memorize every word you encounter. It’s more important to understand how to copy and paste than to know the keyboard shortcuts. I see a lot of people who are clueless when they need to do something. “How do I make this paragraph double-spaced?” They don’t think to right-click. They don’t think to click Format and pick Paragraph. They just start clicking… everywhere.

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  5. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    Very true. I’m still trying to find the perfect way to conduct the Office part of the lab in my class.

    Most students get really scared when we start doing HTML but once they get past the whole markup language concept they end up loving it. Databases are also ok because I can actually start from some textual spec, draw an E/R diagram, write up tables by hand on the board, and then show them how to create them in Access along with relationships and queries.

    Word and Excel however are tough because most people think they are already familiar with them. But they are not. Perhaps throwing in OpenOffice into the mix would help. I might try that next semester.

    Speaking of double spaced – I once knew a girl who would double space her papers by hitting enter twice at the end of each line. I can’t tell you how many times I showed her how to do it properly, but she never retained it. Sigh… Fortunately, she was kinda hot so she could get away with this kind of cluelessness most of the time. ;)

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  6. Ian Clifton UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Mac OS says:

    Wow, that’s an almost-painful example of double-spacing! You’re definitely right about people thinking they know what they are doing in Word (or Excel). If you ask a class, I’m sure most would say they are good with Word, but ask the same class if they know how to use tab stops, auto-generated table of contents, or any other basic feature and they are clueless. Don’t even get into macros ;)

    Throwing OpenOffice into the mix would be a good change and it also gives you a chance to talk about file formats and their relative levels of portability. I think one of the problems is the anti-intellectualism you mentioned before. People think that any reasonably in-depth knowledge about computers will turn them into “nerds” that no one will like.

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  7. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    It’s double spacing the old school typewriter style. :P

    And yeah, macros are a lost cause. I also tried to show my students that you can actually unzip the new OOXML office files and look at the XML but it went way over their heads.

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