Doing Tech and Teenagers the Right Way

Parents take different approaches to how they handle their kids’ access to tech and how much time they spend with it. My two sons are both teens and we’ve had our share of approaches to it as they’ve gotten older. Recently, I’ve had a couple of priceless experiences with them that involved technology. I got some extremely high quality time with both of them and I’m really glad I found a way to make it happen.

When I think back to growing up, music was a huge thing. When I was a teenager, almost every album I bought was a major tradeoff or a gotta have. I know that I spent time in the record store agonizing over what I’d spend from my weekend or summer job. Obviously that game has changed now. A subscription to a service like Spotify or Apple Music means there’s no scarcity of music, only time. A few years ago I was on Spotify and gave my oldest son a family subscription for a holiday gift. He was a little reluctant at first but got into it. Now I’ve got a playlist he curates for me that’s sitting at 970 songs and 62 hours long. That’s got a couple benefits. The first is that he can treasure music. It’s really transformed his daily activities. He consumes new bands like a fiend. The second benefit is that it’s expanded my own musical tastes. I’d been exploring on my own, but this takes it to a new level. There are times I find songs and acts before he does but not all that often.

Either way, we’ve got a common set of acts we listen to and common experiences. I give him my phone in the car to cue up songs and we’ll get psyched about new releases. We’ve also gotten a turntable and built up a small supply of vinyl. A couple times in the evening we’ve also spent some great time listening to music. I have an Apple TV in my home office and we’ll take turns scouring YouTube for obscure or rare sets while making sure that we don’t hit a dead end. Sure we’re using tech, but it’s face time, we’re talking about it as we go, and it really brings us together.

My other son listens to a lot of the same music but isn’t as into it. He’s much more into video games and, though he’s tailed off on it some, loved Minecraft. Some of what he’d design and automate was really amazing because of the amount of thought which went into it. The trial and error to get these environments working was also evident. Not that he read a manual. He has a lot of intuition on how things work. He’s also competed in school robotics competitions for a few years. We’ve talked about him building an app before but the desire never really clicked for him.

Meanwhile, I’d been sketching some cartoons for entertainment and was looking for something productive to do with them. After iOS 10 came out, I took note of the new Messenger sticker capability and that it’s tied into the App Store. Apparently my son had noticed also and we decided to build one together. I’m in sales but have a technical position and have worked in the software industry for years. Though I don’t code for a living, I’m not exactly unfamiliar with it either. We decided to split things up into the “creative department” and “product engineering” and got to work.

The two of us sat together in my office and worked for most of a weekend day. We’d talk about what needed to be done, I’d draw some. Then we’d discuss what else needed to be set up in Xcode or what I should sketch next and work some more. We tested the app, looked things up online, hit roadblocks, and managed to overcome most of them. Oh, we also took a lunch break at Moe’s – always keep the developers fed! And yes, we had Spotify going.

App testing
In the thick of things as we learn our way through setting up the app.

Eventually, we got something we were happy with. We put test versions on our phones, tried it out, and submitted the app to Apple. Then we hit a big snag which felt like we had messed something up. He got frustrated and we decided to step away from things for a bit. Later on in the week, he called up Apple tech support and it turns out that something odd really was going on. He sat on the phone with them for an hour and a half and walked through it while testing possible solutions. It may sound a little rough, but this is a 14 year old who had never used a development environment before having an entirely lucid conversation with someone who was used to dealing with pros. They still didn’t get through it but my son had a brainstorm on the way home from school the other day and solved the problem in just a few minutes. Then he figured out on his own how to use TestFlight to set us and others up for beta testing. He was actually a little surprised I knew about it so I had to remind him that I work for a software company.

This was another terrific example of using technology while parenting. I don’t often get to see him work like that and solve problems. We worked really well together and had a lot of fun at the same time. We bonded well and spent hours together which he’s still psyched about as we keep monitoring the approval process and tweak the next builds of the app. He’s learned some about building apps but even more about managing frustration, talking with people, and approaches to fixing problems.

It’s obviously important to be a part of your kids lives. They get so much out of it and so do you. It’s even better when you find creative ways to find things in common. And if it’s a learning or expansive process then that’s just icing on the cake. I love that we relate with each other so well and keep looking for opportunities to do more of it.

Update: Our app is live on the Apple App Store! Is it serious and life-changing? No, not really. Two points though:

  1. If you want an example to show your kids and get them involved in a learning project then this may be just the thing.
  2. Having a creative outlet is fun and you can learn skills to use elsewhere in your life.
Your basic Boozemoji. Cheers!
Your basic Boozemoji. Cheers!

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