How I teamed up with my son on technology

I never dreamed I’d be a tech reviewer – or that it would provide such an occasion for cooperation and growth.

Karen Norris/Staff

Two years ago, my son sat me down for a talk.

“Mom, it’s time,” he said.

He fidgeted. As a tall 11-year-old, he looked older than he was. I braced myself for what might be coming.

“Hear me out: It’s time we got actual TV. And you need an iPhone.”

Normally, I would have laughed him off. My base-model Tracfone was perfectly fine. And we’d never had cable TV or satellite or Hulu. 

But his serious tone made me pause.

He went online and found me a great deal on a new iPhone 5S. After I grudgingly purchased it, I was touched by how sweetly he set it up for me and walked me through a full tutorial. When the battery recently began draining quickly, he picked out a charging phone case. He set it up and taught me how to use it.

And yes, we also got satellite TV, which allows us to watch the news together before school and catch current episodes of our favorite shows.

This funny conversation two years ago marked a shift in our relationship. Perhaps for the first time, I began to really listen to my son’s opinion about our home technology. Since his reasoning was sound and his suggestions within budget, I took his advice and was pleasantly surprised with the results. 

I’d known for a while that my son understands technology better than I do. On airplanes, he grabs my phone to put it in airplane mode, same with silencing it in movie theaters. He wired the speakers in our house. After something was stolen from our front yard, he picked out, set up, and now monitors our security camera. When my computer died, I took him shopping with me. 

As a teenager now, he towers over me. He has a busy social life, with skateboarding, basketball, sleepovers, and online gaming. Once a week, he stays after school to go to the Dairy Queen with his bros.

I see our time together waning and our shared interests shrinking.

That’s why I jumped at the chance when a friend mentioned a possible gig writing technology reviews. I’m a writer by trade, but I’d need a partner who is a whole lot more tech savvy than yours truly. When I presented the idea to my teen, he immediately accepted. Of course, the free swag was appealing, too.

After our interview process and trial period, we were hired. We divided up the work: He does the testing and photography; I write the review, edit the photos, and post everything online.

We’re now several months into the job, posting a couple of reviews a month. It’s changed our relationship in surprising ways. Where he used to get annoyed quickly at my technical ignorance, he’s learned to be more patient and explain things to me in a way that I can convey to an equally unknowing audience.

It also provides a neutral topic for us. There’s no pressure, defiance, or annoyance, as when we talk about grades, sports, friends, or which activities he is or isn’t allowed to participate in. The parent-child dynamic is not only changed; it’s even slightly reversed. He’s leading me. I’m asking him for help and advice.

My son has risen to the occasion. He’s taking it seriously, and to watch him mature in this way is an honor. As someone who’s not much of a reader, he now scours instruction manuals. Without any prompting, he’s even emailed and called – yes, made an actual phone call – to customer service or tech support when sample products weren’t working as expected.

It’s fun, too! Blasting music and yelling to see how soundproof those headphones are. Walking across the yard to test the range of a Wi-Fi extender. Seeing if a robot vacuum can avoid plunging down the stairs. 

Then we think critically about each item and discuss what we liked and what could be improved, whether it’s worth it. Sometimes we differ. But that simply provides more fodder for the review.

And even when we ask to review items that wind up with other reviewers – a 3D printer or a gaming chair – it’s fun to dream together and talk about how we’d have tested them. 

I never imagined being a tech reviewer, but it’s proved to be a valuable way to learn from, work with, and enjoy time with my teen. 

I even got a robovac out of the deal. 

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