“Mommy, can I have a cell phone?”

These words were uttered by my five-year-old son James after school one day. He asked the question casually, as if he was asking for a glass of milk. No big deal.

My face involuntarily morphed into an “Are you crazy?” expression, and in a super-sonic voice that only dogs and small children can hear, I said, “No!

“But Emma has one,” said James, as if that explained everything.

Emma is one of James’ friends at school. Emma is five.

The following day when I dropped James off, I spoke to his teacher.

“Does Emma really have a cell phone?” I asked.

“Yes,” said the teacher with a weary sigh. “It had the whole class in an uproar. We’ve had to make her leave it in the office during school hours.”

Wow. Five-year-olds with cell phones. When I was five, the only phone in my house was the ugly green rotary dial phone attached to the kitchen wall. The term “cell phone” had not even been dreamed up.

This incident made me reflect on the role technology completely failed to play in my childhood. We watched TV shows at the time they aired and if we needed to do research, we went to the library and pored over the encyclopaedia. Assignments were handwritten, and we played music through our clunky Walkmans that played cassette tapes. The day our old rotary dial phone was eked out by the not-even-cordless pushbutton phone was a big day indeed.

I will always remember the day my school got its very first computer, when I was in Grade 11. Most of the high school population was crammed into the newly built and grandly named “Media Centre” for the unveiling. All of us had jostled for a position close to the front of the room, except for my classmate Kate, who had her own computer at home and was regarding the proceedings with an air of boredom. We were usually a bunch of giggling schoolgirls, but on that occasion, you could have heard a pin drop in the room.

After what felt like an eternal wait, a teacher pulled the dark blue dust cover off the hulking shape on the table, revealing a shiny new Apple computer. She pressed a button, and the machine came to life: a bright green cursor flashing on a black background. We were all in awe and couldn’t wait to get our hands on the thing, even though there was already a three-month waiting list for a fifteen-minute turn. Although that first computer was touted as a cutting-edge educational tool, hardly any of us got to use it in any significant way, and it was never a formal part of our curriculum.

By contrast, my children live in a world where technology is inevitable. They have their own computer, and within certain guidelines and restrictions, they explore the Internet. Both of them have been having regular computer lab classes since they were in Kindergarten.

Where some parents avoid the creep of technology in their childrens’ lives, we have chosen to embrace it. We have seen it benefit both of them. James, who initially struggled with reading, is suddenly starting to get it with the help of educational word games. And the benefits for George, who has autism, have been immense. Although the computer is not, by its nature, a social activity, it has helped him make unexpected gains not only in the use of language, but in areas like imaginative play and turn-taking.

For the most part, my kids have balanced, healthy lives. Both of them have a love of the outdoors and physical activity that counters the sedentary effects of computer time. I see a future in which they grow up to be fit and healthy and also fully equipped to take on the world of technology.

What role does technology play in the lives of your children? Have you seen them benefit from it in any way that you may not have expected?

This is an original post for World Moms Blog by Kirsten Doyle of Toronto, Canada.  Kirsten can also be found on her blog, Running for Autism, or on Twitter @Running4autism. You can also connect with her on Facebook.

Photo credit to http://www.flickr.com/photos/ivanwalsh/4352801673/. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.

Kirsten Doyle (Canada)

Kirsten Doyle was born in South Africa. After completing university, she drifted for a while and finally washed up in Canada in 2000. She is Mom to two boys who have reached the stage of eating everything in sight (but still remaining skinny). Kirsten was a computer programmer for a while before migrating into I.T. project management. Eventually she tossed in the corporate life entirely in order to be a self-employed writer and editor. When Kirsten is not wrestling with her kids or writing up a storm, she can be seen on Toronto's streets putting many miles onto her running shoes. Every year, she runs a half-marathon to benefit children with autism, inspired by her older son who lives life on the autism spectrum. Final piece of information: Kirsten is lucky enough to be married to the funniest guy in the world. Connect with her on Facebook and on Twitter @running4autism. Be sure to check out her personal blog, Running for Autism!

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