6 Questions to Ask Before Buying Your Kid a Device for Christmas
If your kids are anything like ours, they are constantly talking about the various devices they want. And with Christmas coming, the advertisements are everywhere. From tablets to phones and upgraded gaming systems, it would be pretty easy to give them a holiday they’d never forget (and when we say “easy,” we mean hypothetically — expensive electronics purchases are not part of many family budgets).
Thankfully, we aren’t impulsive spenders, and we wouldn’t buy our kids devices we can’t afford. But even if we could afford this kind of purchase, the question remains… is it a wise move? Here are a few questions you might want to ask yourself before putting a new mobile device under the tree for your child.
1. What risks does this device introduce to our child?
If the device is Wi-Fi enabled, and most are, the risk for your child to access unwanted content online is extremely high. Even if you do your homework ahead of time and know how to lock that device down, please remember that parental controls and filters do not eliminate risk, they only reduce it. In addition to parental controls, you need to do your due diligence to purchase additional monitoring and filtering options, if you don’t already have them in place. As a parent, it’s your responsibility to do everything you can to keep your child from harm, and that includes protecting them from dangers available through a device that you provide them with.
2. Is this device age appropriate?
We firmly believe in the value of making your kids wait for the benefits of increased independence adolescence brings. That’s why we love the Wait Until 8th campaign to postpone smartphone use in kids until the 8th grade. Crazy? Not really… crazy is giving your kids crack cocaine (an iPhone) and telling them to be responsible little boys and girls.
Just throwing this out there, if you can run your small business from the mobile device, it’s probably not something your 10 or under kid needs. Videos and games are the most popular features of devices for younger children, but giving your child a device that allows them to stream and download without required parental permission and supervision is a recipe for disaster. Don’t graduate to adult-level devices until you are preparing your kids for, well… adulthood.
We love the Better Screen Time checklist that helps families assess 12-points of responsible behavior to evaluate if a kid is ready for personal “smart” technology.
3. Has my child demonstrated enough responsibility at his or her age to warrant the kind of freedom this device would create?
Let’s say for the sake of argument your kid is actually of a reasonable age for the kind of device your considering, like a new gaming system. Here are some things to consider: If your child is struggling with any honesty issues, school performance, or honoring your current rules about existing technology use, you might want to rethink a gift that would increase these struggles. Strong character is more important than having the latest entertainment options.
4. What kinds of rules need to be in place for the use of this device?
Think of things like no devices in bedrooms, passwords must be shared with parents, these certain apps will be blocked and so on. One of our favorite quotes from a parent-teen phone contract is, “This is my phone, because I pay for it. I’m letting you borrow it. Aren’t I nice?” Make sure your kids know exactly what the boundaries are upfront, before the device is even powered up. Talk to your kids about what your monitoring/filtering strategies will be, and give them the security of knowing their parents will be helping them learn how to make good choices online.
5. Can we afford it?
We touched on this briefly already, but please don’t go into debt for your son or daughter’s screen fixation. They too will battle this temptation as an adult… to get something bigger or better than they currently have even though they don’t make enough money to justify it. Help them learn the lesson now to live within their means. If they are of an appropriate age and have truly demonstrated responsibility for a new device that you are willing to safeguard to the utmost, but you don’t have $300… consider giving your child cash towards the device and allowing them to earn and save for the rest. Confront the notion of entitlement as early and often as possible.
6. Can it wait altogether?
With so much technology surging at us from every direction, we think it’s wise for parents to slow down the acquisition process whenever possible. That might mean your child is the last kid on earth (sarcasm) to own his own phone. On the flip side, it might also mean he is able to develop social skills by talking to family members at your Chr*stmas gathering instead of staring at a screen. Don’t be afraid to be “the bad guy.” There are so many memory-creating moments waiting to be discovered in a first chess set, tickets to the big game, or six months of guitar lessons. There is life out there waiting to be lived… and screen-less experiences are becoming more and more rare for the emerging generation.
Devices can be fun, and they can help with things like long car rides and connecting with friends, but remember that children and families survived for centuries without them. We hope the questions above will help you evaluate if mobile devices belong on your shopping list this year, and if so, what measures should be taken to set boundaries with them. While we are not anti-device, we certainly believe they should not be center stage when trying to build a healthy and loving family that knows how to communicate. All things in moderation. Besides, kids are full of creativity and innovation, and sometimes boredom or “old school” entertainment is exactly what’s needed to pull those gifts out.
As for our family, we’re continuing a tradition that each person gets at least one book (as in the paper/ink kind) as a Christmas present. We hope it will help remind our kids of the value we place on “low-fi” life. We’re also allowing our kids to purchase an upgraded video game console, after saving their pennies for quite a long time. Thanks to the screen time limitations we have in place on our Circle device and our experiences helping families set up gaming content controls, we’re in a place of confidence as parents to be able to keep this new technology in check. There will probably be some wrinkles to iron out in our strategy, but thankfully we have a solid foundation laid for our kids of how much screen time is allowed, and what kind of content is unhealthy.