What happens when it is the children who teach their parents to use new technology?

What happens when it is the children who teach their parents to use new technology?

The question has become more and more relevant: in what way and to what extent do children teach their own parents to use new digital media?

One of the possible answers to this question can be found in the article written by Teresa Correa, “Bottom-Up Technology Transmission Within Families: Exploring How Youths Influence Their Parent’s Digital Media Use With Dyadic Data,” published in the Journal of Communication,64 (2014):103–124. Here the author analyzes how young people influence their parents and which factors play a role in this process. The research was conducted in Santiago, Chile, a city with wide use of technology. The results of the study can in any event be applied to other countries who share similar characteristics of this high level of diffusion of digital media.

Socialization and Processes of Learning

According to the author, the digital generation gap can be attributed to many different factors such as gender, age and socio-economic status. As is well known, in fact, it is inevitable in this age of technological shifts that those of the younger generation are the ones who demonstrate a deep familiarity and ability with new technology––certainly to a greater extent than is seen in their parents and grandparents, who learn to use the continual stream of digital innovations through their children and grandchildren. This process of learning, which is facilitated in the older generations by those younger, makes the role of children as new agents of influence in the process of socialization quite evident, and this is an inversion of the traditional model. This change favors an ushering in of new and fresh ideas in families, transforming children into true and proper “opinion leaders in their adoption of new technology on behalf of their parents.” In what pertains to gender, the author notes the differences on the level of influence that young people exert on their parents, and that as a rule it is the boys who are more inclined and disposed to teach their parents how to use the internet. According to socio-economic status, Correa furthermore shows how young people of a lower social status can act as intermediaries between their families and the external environment through the use of new technology.

Another highlight of the research regards the relation between “being taught” and the style of parenting. Although it seems obvious, the greater the authority and severity of the education imparted by the parents, the less influence these children will have over their parent’s use of digital media. On the other hand, if parents and children experience a wider daily interaction between themselves they will likely have more opportunities to transmit their individual digital capabilities and insight, and the parents will be more disposed to listen to and accept these new ideas.


The research adopts a mixed methodology, combining in-depth interviews together with standard questionnaires. In early stages more qualitative data was collected––twenty-eight semi-structured interviews addressed separately both to children as well as their parents, from different socio-economic situations, in such a way that the universe of reference was mirrored proportionally. Instead, in the second phase a questionnaire was distributed among parents and children––251 in total––on the use of technology. Children ranging from age twelve to eighteen and their respective parents were selected from among the schools in Chile and Santiago, according with the three social strata of the population.


The quantitative analysis of the influence children have in their parents’ learning to utilize digital media has demonstrated that children play a central role in all technological devices examined in this study. There is, furthermore, evidence that children feel more influential in the learning process of their parents than the other way round, that is the parents gauge being influenced by their children in a lesser extent. In general, an analysis of the results suggests that there exists a line of transmission of technological education that runs in the direction from bottom to the top -yet without exaggeration, for as the interviews reveal, parents also learn through other means to overcome their shortcomings and technological gaps of knowledge.