The holidays are often a time for giving and receiving long-awaited gifts. How many times has a plea for something new ended with, “Well, if you’re good, maybe Santa will bring it?” So it’s no wonder that many teens are hoping December will bring a new cell phone, table, or even a gaming system. But as the capabilities of these devices has increased, so too has the need to set some boundaries around these connected gadgets.
Devorah Heitner is the founder of Raising Digital Natives, and the author of Screenwise: Helping Kids Strive (and Survive) in Their Digital World. In her work, Heitner gives advice for parents raising kids in the digital age, how to navigate connectivity and manage a child's digital experience.
When picking out a device, Heitner suggests analyzing the reasons for buying it and whether or not this is something you want to introduce to your home. Since most of these devices are connected to the web in some way, she believes parents should figure out the kinds of ground rules they want before the gift is given.
"Where in your home is this device going to live and what rules will you create around it, or what kind of ecosystem in your media ecology is this going into? Do you already have some rules around technology that this device fits into or are you going to need to come up with some new agreements around this device?" she asks.
Heitner admits these can be difficult conversations to have during the holidays, which is part of why she believes in avoiding these big gift items on big holidays like Christmas.
"It's not necessarily great to surprise kids with a tech gift because you may want to lead up to the gift with some agreements about how it's going to be used, what their responsibilities are as thoughtful, responsible users of this lovely device," she says. "... I think the danger of the surprise is that it's hard to have those conversations when everyone's sitting around in holiday mode."
Still, Heitner doesn't rule-out giving digital media devices altogether, but says the more research you do, the better off you will be. "I would especially talk to other parents. If you have parents in your circles who have kids who are your kid's age or slightly older, they can be great sources of information," suggests Heitner. "Also, if you have college-age nieces or nephews or older kids in your family, if it's an app that your kids want, they may well know it."