Tuesday, October 11, 2011

My Fifth Grader Has a Cell Phone

As many recent tributes note, Steve Jobs taught us to "think different" about the way we approach and use technology. Our challenge as a District is to harness the power of  technologyin its simplest and most complex formsto make learning deeper, more layered and more meaningful.
Ric Dressen @EdinaSuper

That’s right, she has a Pantech Laser. She paid for half of it with her allowance, the plan has unlimited texting, and partnering with her on the purchase was one of my best decisions as a parent.

“Why does a fifth grader need a phone?!” my friends ask. “Not until she’s in high school!” others state. Some don’t say anything and instead flash a polite look: “I’m glad you aren’t parenting my child.”

Of course, I understand all those responses; I also think they are short-sighted. I thought a long time about if and when to allow my daughter to have a phone. I thought about
research conducted in June 2011 by Parenting Group and the BlogHer network, finding that 20 percent of Gen X moms give their children access to smartphones by age two, and 33 percent of Gen Y moms do. I am sensitive to the idea that we are all becoming a dynamic mix of human-ness and technology. I decided that in essence, her phone could be about safety, security and love, and at the same time it could be about helping her to connect meaningfully to the world around her.

When I’m late to pick her up from school, skating, or camp, I simply text her: “I’m running late, honey, but I’m on my way. Hang in there.” I receive a message back that reads: “thx dad.” She knows I’m on the way and I know she’s safe. When I’m traveling, I send her a text: “I miss u.” And I get a text back: “miss u 2.” And when my wife loses her phone, I send my daughter a text that begins with: “Tell mom that….”  When our kids wake up sick, I text their teachers and the nurse to notify them of the absences; we learn about potentially dangerous situations instantly through emails from our district communications leaders. We are all intertwined.  We can help each other in ways previously unimaginable.

My daughter's teachers are using digital technology daily to connect my daughter with people, concepts and ideas. Could she still be learning on a blackboard? Yes—but instead she works interactively with her teachers on a white board. Could she still write her reports on paper? Sure—but last year she presented her report on polar bears using Powerpoint instead. She reads her class-assigned books on a Nook.

Does this mean there is no longer value in writing, talking, or sitting in a coffee house face to face? Of course not. Have we had to take the phone away when she has abused it by downloading too many games or when she has not taken care of it? Unfortunately, yes. But I am choosing to guide my child gently, responsibly, and wholeheartedly into the world that she is quickly being thrown into—whether I like it or not. Either I lead her into it as I deem appropriate, or someone else will.

Like her teachers throwing her head first into interactive white boards, powerpoints, and wikipedia research, I too am connecting her to her family, her friends, and the rest of our big but oh-so-small world.

And it’s one of the best things I’ve done for her.

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