Mara Gulens
June 22

A tale of three tech babies
Hub Canada

With my first child, I was all anxiety. Some of it had to do with meeting major milestones, like giggling, crawling, and counting to three. But the real concern was technology.

Would my daughter master the computer in a way that would enable opportunities later in life? Would she be able to keep up with change? Most importantly - would insufficient training lead to crucial keyboarding issues later on?

To ensure she was on the right track, Marika was at the computer long before she could sit up in a highchair. JumpStart Baby, one of the first "lapware" titles for kids nine to 24 months, became a favourite. With random pecks - or bangs - of the keyboard, my child could make a cow exit a barn, a monkey sing, and contribute to the multi-million dollar software-for-babies industry.

Around the same time, I began reviewing children's software. Office Depot shelves were sagging under the weight of beautifully illustrated, colourful product boxes. How was a parent to know what to buy? Technology was my area of expertise: someone had to make sense of it all.

My house became known as the Fun-at-the-Computer-Place. Cousins and friends were ready and willing to try out the latest games, and provided an excellent reality test after I'd already given the programs a go.

Occasionally, when there were no games handy, Marika would get to experience the pure, unadulterated connection between keyboard and print by typing out letters in Microsoft Word. She didn't mind that, but most of the time her skills were strengthened in the presence of Elmo, Winnie-the-Pooh, and a megabyte of other characters.

It was an exciting time. Dotcoms were booming, technology was the future, and thanks to an early start, my daughter was well on her way to a successful technological future.

In the midst of all that, baby number two arrived, but her entry into high-tech was completely different. Dotcoms went bust, educators began questioning the role of computers, and mom just didn't have time. Was little Liva ever enrolled in introductory lapware 101? I don't think so.

But it wasn't only that. Given the way Liva's older sister had effortlessly made her way over various high-tech hurdles, I forgot to worry about Liva's prowess. In addition, the PC was no longer the only techy kid-thing in our house. A pink Barbie laptop and DVDs on the laptop were standard fare for long road trips, and Pixter, a battery-operated new-age Etch-A-Sketch, took care of creative.

One day, when Liva felt she was old enough (she was about three), she shoved Marika aside and demanded computer time. Somehow she knew exactly what to do, and played a game - no questions asked.

By baby number three, Darija, humankind in general had gained a more balanced hold on technology. Or so I thought. By then it was such a ubiquitous part of our existence that philosophizing about the changes had dropped by the wayside.

The girls took it for granted they could phone grandma from a cabin in the woods, miles away from a telephone pole! Imagine what they'd take for granted a few years in the future...

By the time Darija was talking, so were her books. The LeapPad Learning System gave her a jump on the computing experience, and by two she already knew how to use a stylized stylus.

When I went back in time and tried out a 21st century, now fully researched baby product, Baby Newton Fun With Shapes, we all stood back in anticipation. Would this product, perfect for my youngest daughter's demographic, have a wondrous, explosive effect?

Hardly.

Darija pecked away and at 20-months learned to say "Einstein." But part of the computer experience at that age, apparently, has something to do with parents (no wonder they call it lapware), and she soon wandered over to sit in my lap. I'm thinking she'll remain a bit standoffish until she hits three.

The computer and all the smart toys still remain big players in our house. And there are - as there have always been - time limits and guidelines to usage.

The biggest issue now is pulling myself away from the computer at 5:00 p.m. - otherwise, how can I insist there's more to life than just this?

I'm thinking the next challenge will be sustaining the girls' interest and enjoyment in computers when they hit the age where traditionally girls have dropped out. I guess that's when we'll see the true effects of being a tech baby.

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