Fear not the hacker!

The term “hacker” has come a long way in the last decade. Once a word that conjured up shady images of a criminal trying to access systems or data for nefarious purposes, hacker has now taken on a different meaning (and, actually, it has several definitions these days). Hacker by today’s standards is actually a complimentary way to refer to someone with an expertise and/or skill. Traditionally, it has its roots in computer programming, but these days the word is used across many areas and topics. Much like the words “nerd” and “geek” have evolved to describe someone with an expertise or passion in a certain topic, so, too, has the word hacker.

Sure, we still see the words “hacked” and “hacker” in the news every day with negative connotations. Companies get hacked, information is stolen, data is breached, disastrous PR ensues for the businesses involved. But it’s not all gloom and doom for hackers. In fact, many hackers put their skills to many good uses these days, too. Computer and systems hackers are now working for organizations in new, ethical ways. Penetration testers, or White Hat hackers, are actually employed by companies in their security departments, or hired as consultants, to help uncover security vulnerabilities and shore up defenses. Being able to call oneself a hacker is actually an honorable thing in many contexts these days.

What does this mean for you as parents? It means hacking is no longer something to be feared. Becoming a hacker is something we should all aspire to. Culinary hacks can help us get tasty, more nutritious meals on the table in less time. Parenting hacks can assist with getting life to run a lot more smoothly (and peacefully) in your home. Math hacks offer clever ways to quickly figure out complex problems. Do you see where I am going with this? Hacking can offer helpful shortcuts to just about anything – and none of it needs to be unethical.

Why am I bringing this up? Because I am challenging all of you to start using hacks in your life every day. The next time you are contemplating how much you despise doing some daily, menial task – like laundry – I want you to search “laundry hacks” and find several, ingenious ways to make your weekly clothes-cleaning ritual more efficient. The next time you and the family are headed out on a long car trip, search for “car ride hacks” and find lists and lists of hacks and suggestions for making a 5 hour ride to grandma’s slightly less tedious. Again, hacking can be applied to just about anything.

Once you’ve gotten the hang of how hacking can play a role in everyday tasks in life, I want you to start applying it to technology, too. I am speaking particularly to those of you out there with a 7 year old that can make his way around a laptop or iPod better than you. If you want to be able to speak openly, honestly and authoritatively about what your child is doing online and on the computer, you need to know how that shiny little box works.

Search for Internet hacks and find fun new ways to browse the Web. Search Microsoft Excel hacks and suddenly you’re making your way around a spreadsheet like a CPA. What type of device is your family using? Search the name of the device and “hacks” and suddenly you’ve opened up a new world of shortcuts and tricks to using your device. For those of you who want to go further and find out what professional hackers are up to, there are games you can play to pretend to be a hacker.

Hacking is cool and fun. It sparks creativity and helps us solve problems. Get your kids involved and encourage them to explore new ways to hack things, too. I’m not advocating for ways to cheat at math homework or break into someone’s computer, but encouraging them to find ways to do things in a simpler or more innovative way when appropriate. When you’re hacking, you’re also learning – and any cyber savvy parent can get on board with that.

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