Kids are good with technology! How come?
A recent survey shows that 40 percent of parents say that their children are much more at ease with technology than they are. While parents once had all the answers, the new normal is for parents to ask kids how to use a mobile phone, or set up an Instagram account. Children’s sophisticated tech skills have become such a well-known phenomena that the world’s biggest technology companies now seek out the advice of whiz kids. Apple has lowered the minimum age to attend their developer conference from 18 to 13 years. Google is taking on developers as young as 11.
The key to children’s success with tech is their passion for exploring their world and open-mindedness when trying to understand and apply new ideas. For example, a recent study from the University of California, Berkeley, found preschoolers were more successful than college students at working out how to use toys and gadgets they’d never seen before. You might think that the college students had an unfair advantage because their long-term experience would give them a good understanding of how to operate them. But it was their experience that worked against them.
The preschoolers were much less familiar with toys and gadgets and hadn’t yet developed fixed ideas about how they work. As a result, they were flexible in their thinking and this made them fast. They would look at the design and try a wide variety of ways to make the toy or gadget work – no matter how weird and crazy the design presented to them.
In comparison, the college students kept using their tried-and-tested methods regardless of how unconventional the design was. Their experience slowed them down because they weren’t as adaptable as the young children in their problem solving. Children’s approach to learning suits technology.
This study is one of many which show us two important reasons for children’s natural ease with technology and the speed in which they learn it. The first is that children have a natural affinity for exploratory learning and problem-solving skills based on probability. That is, children often solve a problem by trialling a range of solutions over and over. They then work out the relationships between the different results achieved from each attempt, very much like a scientist would work.
The second reason is that children’s approach to investigating their world is particularly well suited to technology. Technology is designed so that there are never-ending ways to explore and master each new device and app. Technology can present adults with a case of option overload, but for children it’s like a playground and perfectly suited to what they love to do. Children are impressive tech users, there’s no doubt about it. Their expertise is something that deserves our praise, just like any other aspect of their life that they feel a sense of achievement in.