Stop teaching your girls that computers are difficult!

Instead of posting another development update, today I want to talk about something that annoys the hell out of me: Parents that teach their kids that computers are difficult. This seems to happen with girls more often than with boys, but applies to both genders.

During my time at the university I worked as a network admin in our dormitory. I would help with all kinds of computer issues, but most of the time I would help students get their internet set up.

A Toy for toddlers. Simple blocks have to be put through holes. Each block will only fit through the hole with the correct shape. This toy is meant for 3 year olds or younger.

The complexity of connecting a LAN cable to a computer.

Sure, there was the occasional male student who complained about me blocking his port just because he forgot to turn off his DHCP server and trapped half the dorm’s occupants in his own network. But the vast majority of people coming to me during office hours to get help were female. But this post is not about whether girls need more help than men, or just don’t have as much of a problem asking for help. This is about what they said to me.

I don’t know anything about computers
Practically all of them repeated the same line: “I really don’t know anything about computers.” – usually followed by “It’s too complicated for me.” It sounded the same every time. It felt rehearsed, learned off by heart, like a mantra. Then they stepped aside and waited for me to do my thing, with no interest in learning how to do it themselves.

I am proud to say that I successfully fought the urge to grab them by the hair and show them that there really is only ONE SINGLE opening on their computers that the LAN cable could even fit into. Two year old kids can solve toys where they need to fit shapes into matching openings, so I am sure these college students would have been able to do it. But they were so convinced they couldn’t, that they didn’t even try.

My personal highlight were two french girls that were exchange students at my university. They tried to reach their dial-up internet provider (in France!) from the dormitory – using the network outlet instead of the phone line. The language barrier stopped me from getting them to understand the difference, and that they were trying to make an international phone call just to get online. But I tried my best to explain to them that we offered free internet inside the dorm and even lend them two of my own LAN cables (which they never bothered to return by the way). Care to guess what they told me (in broken english)? “Oh, we don’t know about ze computerz.” They too were convinced computers were too complicated for them.

Kids just repeat what the parents say
And you know what? I am really not angry at any of these girls. I am angry at the parents for teaching them this bullshit. All my female friends in school were repeating that same line over and over without ever questioning it. “Computers are too complicated for me.”. Their parents had taught it to them. What a bang up job, telling your kids they aren’t smart enough for something!

In High School my best friend’s dad wouldn’t even let her use their family’s computer at home – despite her being in computer science class! (Side note: If I remember correctly she also was the only other girl in computer science class aside from myself.) She knew how to program the darn thing, but yet, at home she wasn’t allowed to use it, because she was a girl. Oh yes – her brother was allowed on the machine. At least until he broke it.

Don’t Tell Your Kids!
Computers are not that complicated. Trust me. Things are only difficult until you learn how to use them. If you read this and you ever have kids, do me a favour. Under no circumstances ever tell them that a computer (or math for that matter) is complicated. It will discourage them from even trying. I have met the grown-up versions of these little kids and can attest to that.

So even if you think of computers (or math) as black magic that can only be operated by specialists, don’t share your opinions with your kids. It doesn’t even matter if your kid is male or female. Just keep it to yourself and let them decide on their own.

Final Note
After re-reading this I feel like I should call up my mom right now and tell her thank you. While my dad kept insisting that paper worked just fine for him, she dragged all kinds of computers and gaming consoles into our house. She was also the one who bought me my first Commodore 64 when I was eleven – along with a box of games and my very first programming book. I would not have become a software engineer if it hadn’t been for that. So thank you, mom.

2 thoughts on “Stop teaching your girls that computers are difficult!

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