“No, dad, you have to push start”, 40 % of parents learn how to use technology from their children

No, this new study isn’t a proof for the concept of digital natives. We have known for quite a long time that kids are better in the ‘button’ side of technology (not necessarily  so in strategic or content-related competences). Still, the chances are if you are a parent, your child is teaching you and maybe you don’t even know it. A recent paper published in the Journal of Communication found that between 30%-40% of parents were taught how to use the computer and Internet from their children.

Actually, I often ask this question in talks I give for groups of parents and most of them admit this.

From the press release:

Theresa Correa, University Diego Portales (in Santiago, Chile), conducted in-depth interviews with 14 parent/child sets and surveyed 242 parent/child sets. She found that youth influence their parents in all technologies studied (computer, mobile Internet, social networking) up to 40% of the time. The children’s scores were higher compared to parents, showing that parents don’t necessarily recognize the influence. Parent’s also learned how to use technologies by self-experimentation.

This bottom-up influence process was more likely to occur with mothers and lower socioeconomic families. Similar to what happens among low-income immigrant families, where the children act as language and culture links between the family and the new environment. Digital media represents a new environment for lower socioeconomic families, and the children from poorer families were more likely to receive input about technology from school and friends. This spills over and, in turn, the children teach their parents.

Past studies have connected younger family members’ influence of older family members with the computer and Internet. Those used qualitative methods and have not explored the extent to which this process occurs and what factors play a role, like Correa’s study.

“The fact that this bottom-up technology transmission occurs more frequently among women and lower-SES families has important implications,” said Correa. “Women and poor people usually lag behind in the adoption and usage of technology. Many times, they do not have the means to acquire new technologies but, most importantly, they are less likely to have the knowledge, skills, perceived competence, and positive attitudes toward digital media. These results suggest that schools in lower-income areas should be especially considered in government or foundation-led intervention programs that promote usage of digital media.”

Abstract of the research:

This study investigated the bottom-up technology transmission process in a country with varied levels of technology diffusion, such as Chile. It explored to what extent children teach their parents how to use digital media and proposed a typology of factors related to this process. By relying on a mixed-methods design—which combined interviews with an original survey—and dyadic data, it found that the transmission occurs for all the technologies investigated, although children’s influence should not be overstated. This process was more likely to occur among women and people from lower socioeconomic status, and it was also associated with less authoritarian parents and more fluid parent–child interactions.

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