I've been getting a lot of lessons lately in how kids grow up. My oldest son turned 13 this year, and in combination with his growth spurt, he's growing in to quite the young man in other ways. In this modern era, a father needs to think about more than just kicking their butts in to a summer job. A good geek father needs to start thinking about their 'technological growth'. That growth begins with the most basic of tech needs, that of an email account.
Since I've had my own domain through Google for many years, even my youngest son has his own email account. But what has become even more useful lately is the advent of more and more cloud services. In particular, Google Docs and Dropbox. Since my kids spend time at two houses, having the ability for them to start working on homework at one house, save it to a cloud location, and then continue working on it at the other house, is a tremendous advantage. So cloud storage is a must for children of a geek, especially divorced geeks.
The second question that often comes up with kids as they get older is their involvement in social media. This is one area where a parent obviously needs to keep an eye on things. There are tons of stories out there about bad things that can happen to kids online, but for the most part, those cases are exceptions, not the norm. Just as important as knowing what your kids are doing in social media, is teaching them how to behave properly, and how to maintain a level of privacy, yet allowing them to be open with their friends. Grown-ups usually have a good sense of how to carry themselves in a social situation, which are skills that teens are still learning. So throwing them in to a huge pool of digital social interaction without any guidance, can lead to some ugly situations. In my case my kids haven't jumped much on the social media bandwagon too much yet. A bit of Twitter watching and a Google+ account, but otherwise I'm letting them lead when they're ready for more.
Moving to the physical gadget realm, there's the always fun topic of cell phones. In my case, it became important for my kids to have cell phones because I gave up a land line years ago. Since their mother also doesn't have a landline, cell phone were a must. The question then becomes, dumb or smart phone? In my case I opted for a feature (dumb) phone that has a touch screen, so it feels a bit like a smart phone, and it has a nice physical keyboard for texting. However, one piece of advice I would give, is to go with eBay for phone purchases. You can often find decent old feature phones for really good prices, and the added benefit that you're not locking yourself in to a contract any longer than you want to. Plus, if it gets broken, you haven't just dropped a ton of cash on an expensive Android or iPhone.
Finally, we come to one of the more difficult aspects that I've had to deal with more recently. The issue of money. In this day and age I never write checks anymore, and the amount of time I have actual cash with me is few and far between. My kids get an allowance, and from time to time want to spend part of it. Many times they may not have their cash with them at the time of purchase (meaning dad has to pay and get reimbursed), or even more problematic, what to do with online purchases? Well, thankfully there are a couple great options now. If you're an ING customer, they have a debit card account for kids as young as 13, but if ING isn't your cup of tea, there's PayPal. Turns out PayPal has a student account option for young people, that gives them a debit card, as well as a regular PayPal account. In addition, it has tons of parental controls to ensure that your kids can't spend more than you want in a single transaction, or send money to people you don't know. Overall, it's a great solution in this day and age, and allows me to teach some responsible money management, as well as allow some freedom to grow and learn.
So there's a few of my thoughts and tips about being a geek dad. I'm not rich enough that my kids have their own laptops or anything like that, but with the advent of some nice seven inch tablets, that might be a future growth option....