If Kids Were Computers…

If you like computers, perhaps this example will help illuminate how we should think about teens.

Teens and parents are both humans.  We have the same genetic parts.  This is like computer Machine Language–all computers, no matter the brand, speak in 0’s and 1’s.  Then comes the operating system this is like Mac vs PC.

In humans, this is the hormone and brain development differences between adults and teenagers.  We have the same genetics (machine language) but our operating systems are a bit different with the amount of hormones and maturity.

Lastly, the application programs on a computer like Word or Safari are what society teaches teens and parents to be like—what kind of clothes to wear, when to have the sex talk, etc.  We cannot change the machine language for computers or humans, but we can focus on the application programs and the operating systems.

In more computer terms, we need to learn to minimize certain harmful applications (doing drugs, having sex too early) and enlarging other windows (finding your passions, respecting elders, etc).

Often, we are taught to mystify things we do not understand.  When experts don’t know the answer they say ‘well that’s just teens.’  I say, teens just work on a different operating system. When we write off teen’s behavior as just ‘too complicated,’ we do not bear any responsibility for even trying to understand them or help.

When at an impasse with your teen, think about what kind of application program they are using.  What lens are the looking through during this argument.  Once you figure out the application program, how can you minimize that window and open an application that is more successful, safe or logical.

You do this by finding the emotional need of their application.  What is the emotion or emotional need behind their action or words.


“Mom, I hate going to Grandma’s house! Then we miss ALL of our Sunday fun time.  I hate it!”

We typically respond with something like:

“Your Grandma is lonely! We need to go see her, she has been looking forward to this.” (Grandma’s emotional need).


“We have to go to be a good family to her.  It is our obligation to see other family and your Grandma has done so much for us.” (Mom’s emotional need).

What’s better:

“I know you want some play time today because you had sports yesterday and school all week.  We are going to be back by 2pm and then I will let you have as much time in the backyard as you want.  Maybe Steven can come over and play so you have something to look forward to after Grandma. Should I call him?”

The emotional need was his wanting time for a break, wanting to play.  Responding to that is something kids and teens can understand.  You minimized the social obligation window (important for you) and brought up the playtime after family time window.  This speaks to their operating system.

What are some of your kid’s emotional needs and how have you responded?

3 Responses to “If Kids Were Computers…”

  1. Rick Hamrick
    May 18, 2010 at 4:43 am #

    Kids provide a delightful learning environment for parents. Just as you illustrate here, children respond in a more positive way when we do and say things which make clear that we hear them.

    This is a lesson we all need, and parents have the benefit of short little teachers who offer the lesson in its simplest, most-direct fashion.


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