Kids Aren't "Good at Tech"

Educators and parents have made an assumption about technology that is hurting children.

The thinking goes like this: children naturally understand how to use technology. We don’t even need to teach them anymore. In fact, we should be letting them teach us.

But if we buy into this, we’re making a grave error. It turns out that kids aren’t inherently good at technology. Just like when we were kids, technology is a skill that must be learned and practiced.

It just so happens that some of our newer technology, like iPads, are intuitive enough that students can teach themselves how to use them more quickly than they would have with a Desktop machine in the 90’s. It also helps that a touchscreen is more engaging and visual than a typical keyboard/monitor setup. Uniformity in app design also helps us learn new apps more quickly. You don’t need to re-learn how to use an interface with every new app.

And so if you give a child an iPad and an app they’ve never seen before, there’s a good chance they’ll figure out how to use it quickly. Perhaps more quickly than we might. And so we think that this is some sort of trait inherent to digital natives. And perhaps swiping and tapping skills are taught to today’s kids early, which helps strengthen their technology skills.

But give them a problem to solve with technology, and they’ll ask “where’s the app?” If there’s no app to solve the problem, they’re a standstill. And there are great new apps that automate processes on the iPhone and iPad, like Drafts and Shortcuts. These apps allow the user who doesn’t identify as a programmer to start creating scripts and solutions where there previously weren’t.

For instance, I created a Shortcut that calculates the time it will take me to get home from wherever I am located, and then automatically sends a text to my wife in the background to let her know how long I’ll be. A solution to a problem without a specific app.

Teaching kids how to automate might become the gateway to understanding how to talk to technology to solve problems. We shouldn’t be raising the next generation to be swipers and tappers. We should be raising them to be thinkers and solvers and doers.

And that requires the same old skills we’ve taught and learned since forever.