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tech gap

In a recent poll, almost half of 502 post-secondary students surveyed said that they passed their old technology on to their parents.

Jim Beneteau can hardly keep up with his sons as they zip from the LCD TV aisle past the camera counter to the laptop displays at a busy Best Buy store in downtown Toronto. Things aren't too different at his home in Belwood, Ont., where 14-year-old Alex and 12-year-old Scott use devices more advanced than the ones he owns.

Mr. Beneteau is no Luddite. In fact, his new toy is an iPod Nano. But he didn't buy the MP3 player for himself - he inherited it from his son, Alex, who upgraded to an iPod Touch a year and a half ago.

He says his son is only slightly more tech-savvy than him, which makes Alex roll his eyes.

"He asked how to turn it on, how to switch songs and stuff, how to plug in the headphones," he said with laughter.

Mr. Beneteau is part of a generation of parents that is being forced to adopt technology as their kids - who are constantly updating their own devices - give them their cast-offs.

"They're not afraid to play with it, where we think, 'Oh, we've got to look at the manual,'" said Mr. Beneteau.

In a recent Angus Reid survey commissioned by Intel, almost half of the 502 postsecondary students surveyed said when they purchased a piece of technology, they passed their old one on to mom or dad. These "hand-me-up" MP3 players, cellphones and computers are the sorts of devices parents might not buy for themselves, but are happy to get second-hand from their kids.

"It's an entirely new way of socializing that the older generations adopt," said Jane Tattersall, a new media consultant. "There's no fear or ambivalence for their kids in embracing the new technology - they're born immersed in it."

The rule around the Beneteau compound is if you really want it, you have to pay for it yourself. Alex couldn't convince his parents that a cellphone was a necessity so he shelled out his own cash last year to buy an LG Rumor phone.

"I already want a new one - I wanted a new one six months ago," he said. "As soon as everyone else starts getting new stuff I think if everyone else is getting it, I want it."

When 14-year-old Kurt McEwen-Jones wanted an iPod Touch, he was able to convince his parents to give it to him for his birthday.

He gave his "super old" RCA MP3 player to his mother, Carla McEwen. At the time, she was happy listening to music on the home stereo or on her personal CD player, but after her son trained her in the ways of the MP3 player, she said she can't go back to old technology.

"I was old-fashioned. But now you kind of have to know how to do things because that's just the way it is," she said.

Zee Soofi, the general manager at the Best Buy location, said young people who come into the store have no trouble convincing their parents they need a new device when their old one works fine.

"Anything that's different or hot, they want the newer generation," he said. "Kids will make up a thousand excuses why they need a new one.

But family therapist Joe Rich said the hand-me-up trend benefits both young people and their parents since both generations get devices that are new to them. And kids seem to naturally adopt the role of trainer, he said.

"It gives a sense of place and confidence. As kids grow up, they want to be seen as adults in the family," he explained.

But that's not the case for 21-year-old Kobeeka Sumdaranathan. Discussing technology with her mother and father is a frustrating exercise, she said.

When Ms. Sumdaranathan got a new cellphone recently, she gave her old one to her parents. All they know how to do is place calls to a handful of numbers, but they constantly pepper her with questions about the phone's functions and settings.

"They probably do want to know how to learn all that, but I don't think I have the patience to sit there and teach them. I think I sat there once or twice, but I kind of got tired, so now I just do it for them."

While young adults feel the urge to constantly replace their digital accessories, the older generation is satisfied with outdated models, according to the survey results.

Only 27 per cent of surveyed students said they'd had their laptops for three or more years, while 42 per cent of the 500 adults surveyed said theirs were at least three years old. The survey also found that young adults are more likely to give their mothers their outdated technology. Forty-four per cent of moms said they'd received their kids' old technology while only 28 per cent of dads had received it.

Mr. Rich said there are many cases where parents will consent to purchasing a trendy technology for their child if it means they can use the castoff to keep in touch with them.

"There are lots of parents where their kids hand them up the desktop, go off to school with a laptop, and they are [instant messaging]their children," he said.

When Alex sent his mom, Barb, a text message one day, she was paralyzed - all she knew how to do was make calls on her cellphone. He's made a few attempts at training her, and is baffled by how she hasn't picked up the skill instantly.

"I don't know how you wouldn't know how," he said with a huff of impatience. "It's pretty basic."

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