Photo: Marco Verch (CC BY 2.0)

6 Tips for Parents When Gifting Tech Devices

Tech gifts on your kid’s holiday wish list? You may have concerns about opening the Pandora’s Box of tech use, particularly if this is your child’s first device. Here are some tips for setting the appropriate tone from the start, from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA):

1. Do Your Homework. Talk to other parents, friends, neighbors — and do plenty of online research before purchasing a product. Consumer Reports and Common Sense Media offer detailed ratings and recommendations, as do many tech magazines and websites. Consider the types of activities your child will be doing on their device, as well as your own priorities — such as available parental controls.

2. Get Acquainted With the Device/Product First. Many devices for kids include a wide assortment of parental controls. Take time to familiarize yourself with the device and test out controls yourself before giving it to your child (this probably means ruining the pristine packing, which only lasts a minute after your child gets a hold of it anyway). Demonstrate to your child that you know how to use the device.

3. Set Ground Rules. The ideal time to make a family technology agreement that covers parameters for when, where, and how devices are to be used is when you give the gift. You may want to cover your approach to passwords (do you want to know the passwords to all their accounts?) as well as how technology should fit into overall daily life (i.e., it should not replace outdoor/physical activity time nor family time). Tee up conversations about the importance of balance with everything — not only tech use. Even if you don’t formalize rules through an agreement, make your expectations clear.

4. Think Beyond Time Restrictions. With the exception of very young children, restricting the total amount of time spent on technology is not necessarily the best approach. The “ideal” time may vary based on the individual child, the types of activities the child engages in while using tech (passive vs. active), and a variety of other factors. Consider other approaches, such as setting up tech-free zones in the home (e.g., dinner table, bedrooms).

5. Make Time for Co-Viewing/Use. Devices are great at keeping kids occupied while parents get other tasks done. However, it’s also easy to over-rely on them. Try to carve out daily time for using technology with your child. Ask them to show and explain to you what they’re doing online, play a video game with them, or watch what they’re viewing on YouTube with them. Your interest can get the conversation and connection flowing, will give you a better sense of what kids are doing on devices, and give you a heads up on any potential red flags.

6. Don’t Unintentionally Over-Value Tech Time. Some parents report success with having children “earn” their device time, whether it’s after they complete their homework, do chores, or spend a certain amount of time doing some other activity desired by parents. But this also may inadvertently send the signal that everything else in life is like eating your vegetables and technology is the dessert — even things that should be fun, such as outdoor activity. This may be something to consider.