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Why children do tech better

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Why do children catch on to new technology faster than do adults? ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK has a few answers for parents in this excerpt from his new book, Tech-Savvy Parenting, co-authored with NIKKI BUSH.

We are the TV generation. With our satellite TV or PVR, we feel all powerful – because it appears to give us choice and control. But, think about TV for a moment: it is being done to us. We are passive viewers, and there is no interaction between us and with what is happening on the screen. In truth, we still only have limited choices – we get the bouquet for which we are prepared to pay.

On the other hand, our children are engaging in multiple forms of interactive media, not just static television, and this makes them actors in a digital world. They participate and interact with the online situation, site or social network with which they are engaged – often with other players or friends.

For many of us, television was the on-screen medium that dominated our childhood, but it is a one-way medium. For the most part, the message is predetermined, and is broadcast to us with no right of reply, no opportunity to interact. There was even less freedom of choice before paid-for channel TV arrived. Now at least you can choose to channel surf between programmes. Whoopee!

TV is characteristic of an era that was about command and control, top-down management. It has also been blamed for the rise of obesity in our generation – the generation that is supposed to be setting an example for the children we are now raising. So perhaps it’s time to stop pointing fingers at the baffling preferences of the digital generation without first understanding what came before.

Most of us survived the threats posed by TV, from addiction to sloth to the dumbing down of culture. But then again, our own childhood was a simpler one, in a different time. Today, our children are at the centre of a new world of plug-and-play. It enables human beings to connect with each other – to network – something most of us really like to do, particularly from the teenage years onwards. TV was a medium that specialised in one-to-many transmission, while social media is about many-to-many. It enables us to collaborate, communicate, upload and download with many people – at will, whenever and via multiple media platforms. New media – whether they are apps, websites or our own video blogs – offer a vast range of interaction with content. Social networks, on the other hand, offer endless opportunities of interaction with people. That is both the wonder of it and its terrifying potential for harm. But where adults see only the threat, children see only the opportunity and the wonders of interaction.

It is for this reason, to a large extent, that children catch on to new technologies faster than adults. Because they are born into this environment, they assimilate it, while adults must accommodate – a different and much more difficult learning process.

Parents with young children have an advantage compared to other adults, however, because they can learn to navigate this new media landscape with their kids, who are natural authorities on the subject. That’s not all good news, though. We are in a very different position as parents in that we are both the student and the authority in the same relationship. You need to get your head around the interactive space because it is revolutionising and changing everything, and especially our relationships with our children.

* Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. His new book, Tech-Savvy Parenting, co-authored with Nikki Bush, will be released by Bookstorm at the end of July 2014. Follow them on Twitter on @art2gee and @BushNikki

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