In our increasingly digital world, many parents are wondering just how much technology is good for their kids. Past generations didn’t deal with this nearly to the degree that today’s kids do.
Millennials are old enough to remember a time before the Internet connected everything. Gen Z are considered the first truly “digital natives,” having grown up alongside social media and the Internet of Things. But what about those growing up right now?
The question is actually two fold:
- What devices are right for kids, and
- What can you actually afford?
When it comes to the technologies your kids want most, here’s how to prioritize:
Smartphones are amazing tools. They’ve changed the way we live, interact, buy, and share with others. With all that power comes a steep price tag: Some of the newest phones are selling for over $1,000.
Does your kid really need a phone that expensive? Probably not.
You don’t have to shell out hundreds of dollars to keep your children in the loop. Kids phones are designed to keep them safe without breaking your budget. Ranging from $80-$200 per phone, they look like regular smartphones. Log in, though, and you’ll probably find safety restrictions like no internet browsing, games, or social media access.
While kid phones might not have all the apps your youngster might want, they’re great for building good technology habits. Though they’re not foolproof, they encourage healthy behaviors like calling relatives instead of just liking their Facebook posts.
Realize, too, that kids learn by example. If you’re using your smartphone to scroll through social media, your kids will wonder why you got them a phone without that capability. Once they’re accustomed to using their first phone properly, you can start budgeting for that new iPhone when they’re old enough.
Every month, it seems, a new streaming service debuts. The average American household now subscribes to three different services, spending an average of $37 per month. Still, it’s cheaper than $105/month spent on average for most basic cable services.
Though kids love streaming services like YouTubeTV and Twitch, their costs can quickly add up. Twitch, for instance, lets viewers subscribe to multiple channels for a monthly fee and tip broadcasters with real money.
Moreover, not all content or ads on these services are kid-friendly. When it comes to live-streaming, there’s no telling what might happen during a broadcast.
Instead, choose a streaming service like Disney+ that has plenty of shows that kids love without content beyond PG-13. Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, and Netflix all have kid-friendly options, too, but their parental control options vary. You can still check your account’s watch history to make sure your child isn’t watching anything they aren’t supposed to.
Just like when introducing your child to smartphones, watch shows with them to teach them good viewing habits. If you do decide to let your child watch people play games on Twitch, delete your credit card information. You wouldn’t want your kid to go on a $20,000 Twitch stream donation spree.
Like standard smartphones, tablets have a lot of functionalities that aren’t appropriate for kids. The better approach is to get them an e-reader for kids.
When e-readers came out, they cost almost as much as fully functional tablets. These days, you can pick one up in the $60-$150 range. The Kindle is limited to books and can last weeks if reading is intermittent. Look for a paperwhite screen, which only uses battery when the reader changes the page.
What about the books themselves? Many books are cheaper in digital format than they are in print because a digital file has no printing or transportation costs. Plus, sites like Project Gutenberg offer thousands of titles that are no longer under copyright for free.
If your kid wants the latest titles, give your kids a book allowance. Perhaps they have $25 per month to spend on books that appeal to them. If they don’t use it all, they can roll it over to next month — or perhaps spend it on an accessory for another technology on this list, such as a phone case.
It’s true that not all titles are appropriate for all ages. But then again, couldn’t you say the same about your local library’s collection? Teach your kids to select appropriate materials for themselves. Sooner or later, they’ll need to.
Every few years comes a new wave of video game consoles. In 2020, consoles like the PlayStation 5 flew off the shelves.
It’s hard enough for parents to resist the call of a brand new game console. Having kids begging for one this holiday season does not help. But buying that new console right away isn’t always the right choice.
As is true of every generation of console, the first production batches tend to be riddled with technical problems. Even those that don’t cost half a grand and have, in some cases, all of a dozen games available at first.
Teach Your Kid Patience
Instead, you can teach your children patience. Why not wait for a better, cheaper version with more games? There are already plenty of games to choose from with current consoles, and most of their bugs have been squashed.
Alternatively, you can invest in a gaming computer instead and opt out of the console world entirely. Computers have all sorts of educational roles gaming consoles don’t, such as learning to code or video conferencing with faraway relatives. Simply learning how to buy or build your own computer is an educational experience all its own.
The bottom line is, any technology can be used in healthy or unhealthy ways. Most technologies can be had in cheap or expensive models. Kids are still learning, so it’s important to focus on inexpensive, educational options.
Your wallet isn’t bottomless, nor is your time. Instead of going into debt or hovering over your child all the time, choose kid-appropriate digital devices. You have enough to worry about going into 2021.