Now that school is out, turn the tables and let your kids be the teacher. If you are like most parents, you are amazed at how adept your teens and even young kids are at employing all aspects of the latest technologies. How is it that they take to it so quickly and we as parents are left asking, “what are you doing with all that lightning fast thumb typing?” Well, why not take advantage of the young expert in your home? Ask your kids what their favorite websites or apps are and why. Then ask them for a tutorial in how to use them. You know your phone can do a lot more than what you use it for, so get a free class in the comfort of your own home. You may just learn something new and soon wonder how you ever managed to live without some of your kid’s favorite apps.
As adults, we likely use our smartphones for utilitarian oriented tasks like confirming a reservation, checking the weather or (gasp!) making a phone call. At the same time, our kids and teens are using their tablets and phones in all aspects of their lives. They connect with friends through social media, check the latest sports scores, watch TV, listen to music and play in virtual worlds. All of this screen time can seem like your child is being anti-social, but actually, many of these activities are highly social and interactive. I asked around and got a wide range of fun and useful applications and, having tried many of them, can see how easy it is to get hooked.
While preparing for this blog post, I was lucky that my niece and her friends were in the airport getting ready to head off for a high school-sponsored trip overseas. I was able to get some great responses for what it was they were doing on their phones while waiting for their flight. Snapchat came up a number of times. “My favorite app is Snapchat because it's a quick way to allow my friends to see what I'm doing, and I like being able to communicate with my friends through pictures rather than boring text messages sometimes!” For those who don’t know, Snapchat is a photo messaging application where users can take photos, make videos and add text or drawings and send them to their chosen contacts. Kids use this application as a quick and fun way to check in with friends without having to write a formal note. It can be just a funny photo sent to brighten someone’s day. Of course, social media is still alive and well. As one responder put it, “I like Twitter because I enjoy looking at other peoples tweets and it's a good way to get ahold of people because everyone is using it in today's society!”
Your kids also use their devices for entertainment. Popular streaming services like Beats and Pandora are a favorite of teens who love music. “My favorite app is Spotify because you can listen to whatever music you want for a small fee. I also like it because it's extremely convenient and you can use it on the go,” wrote one of my niece’s friends. Kids and teens also watch their favorite shows entirely differently than we do. The days of appointment viewing have been dead since the DVR was introduced, and now kids and teens take their shows with them wherever they go. My 10-year-old daughter watches her favorite shows on the Watch Disney Channel App. Others like to have more choice, “I enjoy using the Netflix app because there's a variety of movies and shows to choose from and all of my favorites are on there. Its quick access and I use it all the time.” Almost every kid I know watches a lot of YouTube as well. There is a wide range of genres to choose from, such as the newest One Direction music video to the latest amazing pet trick. There is something for just about any viewer. My middle school son and his friends are avid sports fans. They have the ESPN Sportscenter, NBA, and NFL apps on their devices. They also play in Fantasy Leagues. They invite their friends into a division, trade players, and update their team rosters from their phones. It is a fun and interactive way for them to stay engaged with whatever professional sport is in season. Plus, there are bragging rights for creating an undefeated team.
My 7-year-old son loves Minecraft. Minecraft is a hugely popular game where players use blocks to create worlds. Kids can create a building, a farm, a boat, an amusement park or even a whole city, all without making a mess in your living room. Plus, there is an online component where they can invite friends to join in and play along in a virtual world of their own creation and imagination. This game can be highly collaborative and I’ve seen kids work together to build some incredible spaces. My daughter and her friends like to meet up in online spaces like High School Story or Movie Star Planet where they can create characters, shop together and go to parties. She says it is a fun way to play with her friends when in-person play dates can’t be arranged.
Finally, my sister and brother-in-law had to quickly embrace technology with their four kids heading off to college, moving to new cities, and travelling abroad. They use various communication apps to stay in touch with each other from all over the globe. Viber is an app that enables users to text, group text, and talk on their cell phones for free using Wi-Fi access. Viber was a great way for them to stay connected at no added expense. They also use WhatsApp. WhatsApp allows you to exchange text message for free both internationally and stateside. It also requires Wi-Fi, but it will save any unsent messages until you get into Wi-Fi range and will then automatically send and receive any outstanding texts. Finally, Word Lens instantly translates any printed word from one designated language to another using your phone’s camera. Word Lens does not require Wi-Fi so it is a treasure for anyone traveling abroad to translate road signs, menus or maps. It has a limited language base at this time but does include English, Spanish, Italian, French and German.
So the next time you see a group of kids or teens huddled around their devices, take a breath and realize they are staying social and communicative. They just do it in an entirely different, and sometimes more engaging, way than we do. Maybe it’s time for us to learn.
Cover image courtesy of Flickr.