Family Matters: Sons and daughters are ‘tech advisors’

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Unless you’re an IT consultant, chances are that your kids will be more comfortable with computers and high-tech gadgets than you.

A recent Ofcom report found 46 per cent of parents agreed that their child knew more about the internet than they did, and now new research shows parents are turning to their children for lessons in tech.

The study of more than 1,000 parents by John Lewis revealed that 67 per cent of parents have asked their teenage children for technology-related advice, and 41 per cent of mums and dads trust their children to give them advice over friends, partners and colleagues.

It’s not just on the computer that parents need help from ‘teenage tech advisors’.

While 44 per cent have asked their teenager for help using the internet, 41 per cent have received teen advice about how to use the TV or home entertainment system, and 17 per cent of parents needed help setting up their social media profile.

Father-of-five Ahad Surooprajally, 45, admits his children help him with technology in the home.

He explains: “Children today are a lot more tech savvy, as they’ve grown up with the latest gadgets and are surrounded by them at home and in school.

“We have four computers and four iPads in our house – the kids are never without a gadget so if I want to know something technical – the best app to download or free service to use – they’re definitely the ones I go to.”

He says his nine-year-old son Habeeb is the only person in the house who really understands the TV, so his dad tells him which film he wants to watch and Habeeb streams it from his mobile to the TV.

“You teach your kids everyday life lessons, but the tables turn when it comes to technology,” says Ahad.

“I used to be asked by my parents how to set up the video recorder, but there’s just so much more kit around today.”

And it’s not just teenagers that know how to use that kit. This year’s Ofcom report found that over a third of three to four-year-olds are going online using a desktop PC, laptop or netbook, and 6 per cent use a tablet computer.

Mae Moran, aged 11, is a tech savvy pre-teen, and she helps her mum with her mobile, camera and TV.

“My mum really struggles with the Sky box,” she says. “She hasn’t worked out how you pre-record stuff and has deleted my shows off the box before, which is really annoying. I’ve just about managed to show her the basics and I’m the one who tapes stuff for both of us using my mobile.

“Because we use Microsoft at home and mum has it at work, I’ve synched up all our devices so it’s a lot easier to save documents and share stuff like photos and family birthdays.”

Computer whizz Aidan Threadgold, 18, gives technology advice to parents on the website and has just set up his own business, Nous Education, using computers to record teachers’ feedback to pupils at school.

The teenager stresses that not all parents are technophobes.

“It all depends on the individual parent, and whether they’ve put the time in to learn to use the computer, DVD player or whatever it might be,” he says.

“You get some parents who are really tech savvy, and other parents who don’t even know how to turn a computer on, often because they just haven’t tried.”

He says many older adults see computer technology as more of a tool for office work, while people below the age of around 30 see computers as a way of accessing social media, photos and films.

Threadgold suggests parents should make the effort to ask their children to explain how gadgets work.

He warns: “When your kids have left home and aren’t on call for you to ask about how something works, what will you do? A lot of older people are reluctant to engage with technology – they should let their kids teach them.

“Most parents have grown up with different methods of doing things, just as we grew up with the computer being able to do almost everything.”

As well as actually learning how to use technology properly, another advantage of parents asking their children to help them get to grips with the digital world is that they may be able to gain a better understanding of what their kids are doing online.

Will Gardner, chief executive of the charity Childnet International, which works to help make the internet safer for children, points out that in the past, Safer Internet Day has urged parents to find out what their kids are doing online, and challenged young people to make sure their parents understand internet safety and how everything works on the computer.

Gardner points out that children are sometimes referred to as ‘digital natives’ because they were brought up surrounded by technology, while the older generation are ‘digital immigrants’ because technology is new to them.

He says: “We have to continuously encourage parents to find out more about what their children are doing online – if the kids are using a social networking site, get them to show you around it if you’re not using it already.

“There’s lots of advice out there and your kids, the digital natives, can help you, the digital immigrants, navigate the internet too. Parents are faced with challenges all the time, and technology is one of those challenges.”