The Best Answers to Kids' Rapid-Fire Tech Questions
Between tablets, smartphones and computers, there are endless things parents need to teach their kids about technology. That list only grows as they age and prepare for college and professional life.
Whether you're a tech expert or barely touch your computer, these questions from kids will give you a great place to start a lifelong dialogue about all things tech — starting with the very basic to the, well, more technical.
A Funny Name
Answer: The designers of the original invention thought the wire that connects the mouse to the computer looked like the tail on a mouse. Nowadays, many computer mice don't have wires, but the name stuck.
Age Is But a Number
Answer: English mechanical engineer Charles Babbage created the first computer, or analytical engine, in 1833.
So Is Size
Answer: The first computer weighed nearly 66 pounds and was approximately 8-feet tall.
And the Internet?
Answer: Today, the internet is 11,085 days old. You can check its age every day here.
The First Webpage
Answer: On Aug. 6, 1991, Tim Berners-Lee shared the first webpage, which he created and is still up and running here.
A Household Name
Answer: At the time, which was 1995, people used Yahoo's directory to look up sites. By choosing a name that started with the letter “A,” Jeff Bezos ensured his company was at the top of the directory.
Answer: The word robot comes from the Czech word “robota,” which means forced labor or work.
Answer: Spam email is named after a Monty Python skit that made fun of the famous meat saying it tasted “horrible” and was “ubiquitous and inescapable."
But My Friends Are Doing It
Teach Me, Teach Me!
Answer: Varda Meyers Epstein is a mom of 12 and runs the parenting blog at Kars 4 Kids, a nonprofit for kids in the U.S. She said one of her sons noticed her computer skills and soon came to her with this question. She told him, “There is more than one way to do something, so why don’t you try figuring it out in a way that makes sense for you first? Then, I’ll help you if you get stuck.”
She adds, "One point I have always tried to make is that, in computing, there is often more than one way to perform a single task. I always ask them to be patient, while I demonstrate all the ways a task can be done. The point is to let them try harder on their own to figure things out, knowing that if they persist in trying, they may stumble upon the answer, while approaching the task from various perspectives.”
Safety Is Key
Answer: Laura Higgins is a safety and digital civility expert and the director of digital civility at Roblox, an entertainment platforms for kids and teens. She says this is one of the top questions she gets from kids. Her answer? "When you sign up for a new platform, get to know the safety and privacy tools that are available (parents can help you find that)."
Answer: "Don’t post personal or sensitive information, and never share your password, even with friends and family," Higgins says. "Remember that you are never truly anonymous online. What you write is a reflection of you, so how do you want to be perceived?"
Friend or Foe?
Answer: The more your child uses games, social media sites and apps that have messaging formats, the more they'll potentially be exposed to strangers. In answering this question, Higgins advises, “Accept friend requests with caution. Do you really know that person?"
Do It for Me
Answer: Debi Pfitzenmaier is an expert at making tech fun for kids as the executive director of Youth Code Jam. "When we are working with kids on coding, they come to a stopping point and immediately ask for help or a quick fix," she says.
So, when the "will you fix this?" question comes up, Pfitzenmaier says it is best to focus on the failure, perseverance and resilience that coding inherently teaches. "Keep trying! Try a different way. Everyone writes code that doesn’t work, and it can get frustrating trying to identify the problem. But that’s a good thing,” she adds.
Answer: "It’s more a statement, but we often hear from our girls … I’m not good at math and science, so I won’t be good at coding," Pfitzenmaier says. "If you have a daughter, be very intentional about telling her she is good in STEM subjects. Boys are three times more likely to get that message. And then there’s even more influence from other subtle messages we give without even realizing it. If moms talk about how bad they are at math, guess what their daughters think about themselves and their own skills at math? This all adds up to the diversity problem in tech right now."
So, don't be surprised if you hear this question from your child, especially if you have a daughter. The trick, Pfitzenmaeier adds, is showing her the facts, by saying something like: "Yes – there is math involved, but studies show that girls actually outperform boys in math and science in school."
Failure Happens to Everyone
Answer: "Like math — coding is a skill. It’s something you have to learn. And to learn it, you will likely fail," Pfitzenmaier says. "Celebrate your failure as a learning experience. Don’t let it discourage you. Stick with it. I promise it’s worth it."
Answer: "Sometimes, [you need to] put your computer down and go outside and play. You can learn a lot from nature, and being outdoors is good for your body and mind. Same with [adults]. Put your phone down and have a face-to-face conversation with somebody. It’s a good skill to learn," Pfitzenmaier says.
Don’t Need It
Answer: "Stop consuming media and start creating it. Wouldn’t it be more fun to build your own game instead of playing someone else’s? If you have an idea for a way to solve a problem with tech — go for it! Don’t be intimidated if you’re not sure where to start. Find a couple of people and form a team, if you need help. Our world, our neighborhoods, have lots of problems to be solved, and you’re just the one to do it," Pfitzenmaier says.
"Being able to think computationally will help you solve all kinds of challenges, not just tech-related ones," she adds.
Answer: "Take a computer science class in school. Absolutely everybody should know the basics of code before heading off to college or the workplace," Pfitzenmaier says.
Parents can also point their kiddos to Hello Ruby, which is a great resource to introduce computers and computational thinking for K-3, or to Alice.org, which is a Carnegie Mellon-developed platform to learn game design. "[This site] is also about to launch an interface with virtual reality, which is super cool," Pfitzenmaier adds.
Answer: “Start with one of the many free community and online resources to explore,” Pfitzenmaier says.
But parents don't have to push a particular aspect of tech on their kids. "Make it applicable to their lives. Give choices. Make space for creativity. Encourage young people (especially girls) to work collaboratively to solve problems," she adds.
Don’t Like It
Answer: You don't have to!
Dan Shapiro is a Google alumnus, the CEO of 3D laser printer company Glowforge and the creator of the best-selling board game Robot Turtles, which teaches programming fundamentals to preschoolers. He says, “Kids [should] look at technology as a means to whatever end excites them and a tool to accomplish the things they care about. What I want for every child is to see that technology is working for them, not to feel like they have to work for technology. That means building both fluency and comfort and a deep love and excitement about technology throughout their childhood.”
Answer: "In our house, tech is a family activity," Shapiro says.
He introduced his kids to their first laptop as a family activity, so his kids use it only when their parents are present. “They understand that when the session is over, it goes away,” he adds. “It’s a family experience they look forward to, not a digital babysitter. We curate the activities together to create a balance of education, inspiration and entertainment."
Answer: "Try activities that combine learning with delight, including websites like ScratchJR, BrainPOP or Kodable," Shapiro says. "If you turn them loose online, they tend to get the ‘junk food’ of technology and quickly lose the chance to get them excited about more meaningful interaction," he adds.
Answer: Technology is fun and educational, but it can also connect you with people who are dangerous. We want to keep you safe.
Answer: "From time to time [we're] going to check in on what [you're] doing in order to keep you safe," Shapiro says is an excellent answer to this question.
"I recommend being transparent with them about what that means," he adds. "Whether that’s looking at their browser history or talking honestly about what they are doing online, whatever you decide is right for your family."
Talking and Driving?
Answer: Even using a hands-free device to talk on the phone while driving is shown to be equally or more dangerous than driving drunk. And simply talking or texting is outlawed in most states.