If Christmas weren’t daunting enough, the overwhelming amount of tech ads (especially on Black Friday) can be enough for any parent to throw in the shopping towel. Given the massive amounts of technology available for our children, it can be easy to get overwhelmed with all the choices. Our goal is to take out some of the mystery of available technology, especially the ones most promoted for gifts during the next few weeks. While you’ll see a lot of sales on these items, it’s important to be informed about what exactly you’re buying for your kids. Read on.
[message type=”simple”]iPad Air 2 & iPad Mini, Amazon Fire HD, Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro, DigiLand 7″, Microsoft Surface Pro, Samsung Galaxy Tab 4[/message]
Cheaper, lighter weight and generally trendier (think fun cases and multi-colored keypad options) than laptops or traditional desktops, tablets like the ones listed above are often considered great gifts for children and teens. It’s important for you to realize that a tablet is capable of doing anything a computer does, and because of its handy size, the ability to keep things hidden drastically increases. As with all electronics you buy your children, our #1 recommendation is still “trust everyone, verify everything” – Ronald Reagan. However, ‘verifying’ that your teen is being honorable on a tablet requires communication and openness on both your parts. Because technology is so rapidly progressing, organizations seeking to assist parents in monitoring or filtering content on tablets have a hard time keeping up. And while Apple and Android have provided a few basic parental controls on their devices, these are not nearly enough for what a tablet is capable of doing.
Our bottom line? If your teen hasn’t earned your trust by prior use of the internet and/or devices – especially a tendency to hide activity or a reluctance to share passwords – we do not recommend purchasing a tablet for them this Christmas.
Pros: Less expensive than a computer, lightweight (for backpacks), more limited content/games/apps
Cons: Goes more secret places, less control over screen (monitoring)
Parental Controls: App limitations, password protection
Age recommendation: 14+ (Younger kids can share a family tablet)
Best filtering/monitoring software:Covenant Eyes, alternative browser apps
Wearables & Cameras
[message type=”simple”]Pebble, Samsung Gear Fit, Moto 360, Sony SmartWatch 2, Apple Watch, Nike+ FuelBand SE, FitBit, Jawbone Up, LG – Tone Pro Bluetooth Headset, Bose, Beats by Dr. Dre, Skullcandy, HMDX Jam Wireless portable speakers, Sony Speaker Dock, GoPro HERO4, Sony ActionCam, Jawbone Jambox Wireless bluetooth speaker, Motorola Bluetooth earbud headphones[/message]In the spirit of evolving technology we have re-named this section “Wearables” where it used to be Electronic Accessories. Gone are the days of your electronics sitting on your desk. Today we have a need to be constantly connected and use electronics to perform even the most basic of functions (i.e. tell us if we’re breathing “normally”). With the astronomically expensive Google Glass product you are even encouraged to remove yourself from everyday life to allow Glass to record the special moments. What is our world coming to?
Parents, let’s face it: many electronic accessories marketed as the perfect Christmas gift are nothing more than a fad. As electronic accessory fads have a short shelf life, we need to realize that more often than not, they are not worth your buck. A few exceptions are: iPod/mp3 player docs and portable speakers and child-safe headphones (keeps volume at ear-safe levels). Several of the newest, hottest electronic accessories on the market include smart watches, usb-sized media players, gaming headphones and volume boosting headphones (let’s hope your local hearing doctor doesn’t catch your child with those). While each of these has potential for major convenience, they each require an entirely new level of monitoring and concerns. Most smart watches are GPS enabled and track your child’s every move. Can we really trust the world at large to not take advantage of this doorway into our lives? The USB-size media player can also be used with any device and gives you access to unlimited internet media, such as Youtube and Hulu. Maybe your teen is trustworthy, but what about your neighbor’s son who frequents your home? Gaming headphones offer the parental convenience of never hearing the annoying video game sounds – yet further allow your child to escape into a virtual world where you do not exist. Volume boosting headphones – well, do those need any explanation on permanent hearing damage or complete loss? So while each of these accessories offers a lot of convenience and major cool-factor, parents need to beware of the harmful capability of these devices before purchasing them for their children.
Pros: Free us up to multi-task, less cables around the house, more mobility, wearables typically monitor health facts
Cons: Headphones can cause hearing loss, less monitoring options, more data isn’t always safe, constant electronic pulses running around our bodies can be harmful
Parental controls: Open doors, communication, utilizing built-in safety features such as passcodes
Age recommendation: Depends on the accessory
Streaming Video Content
[message type=”simple”]Apple TV, Roku Player, Google Chromecast Dongle, Wifi-enabled DVD player, On-demand TV[/message]If you are unfamiliar with the ability to stream video directly to your TV from the web, you are not alone. Just about any television on today’s market comes with that capability, and the industry is booming with streaming options. Apple TV, Roku, Google Chromecast HDMI streaming play – each of these connect to your television and open up a world of unlimited media: movies, TV shows, music videos and more. With DVDs becoming increasingly obsolete, video streaming is absolutely the ‘new wave’ in home entertainment. While the pros are pretty obvious, the cons can be harder to notice and downright dangerous to overlook. Each of these devices allows you to search for movies, TV shows and music, watch free previews and unlimited access to Youtube, all without being able to track activity. Unlike your web browser, there is no ‘history’ tab, and no parent’s monitoring software (yet) to be a third-party watchdog. Your only hope lies in whichever device you choose having child/tween/teen proof controls for parents. Each device on the market is different, so each will need to be carefully looked into.
Pros: No more scratched DVDs, simplify your video collection, save money
Cons: Less control over content, pornography, “free” content
Parental controls: Passcode protection, disable wifi when not in use
Age recommendation: 18+ (for in bedrooms)
[message type=”simple”]Sony PlayStation 3 & 4, Xbox 360 & Xbox One, Wii, Nintendo 3DS[/message]If your child is into video games and you are contemplating getting a new system this year, it’s good to keep in mind some basic ground rules. The number one thing to keep in mind with games is: set time limits and enforce them with your kids. Listen very closely to this part: YOU ARE THE PARENT. If your child is abusing video game time limits, it might very well be necessary to pull the plug. Like computers, gaming systems should be left in high traffic areas.
Remember games are rated for a reason – often times the most popular games are rated M, yet most kids are playing them. Online content is not included in the rating process. A game rated E can still be extremely inappropriate online because you never know who you might be playing with and what they are talking about with your child.
Unplug headphones so audio can be heard by everyone. It may be annoying for parents at times, but you’re likely to cut down on the nasty discussion topics that happen regularly over online games.
Use common sense when buying titles for young kids. If you buy your 13 year old games centered on war, don’t be surprised if you have to fight them when it comes time to stop playing. Games with significant violent content are likely to encourage adult language and anger, even if it’s just toward the game.
Don’t buy a game for your child “just because it’s popular” or because “everyone has it”. If they can’t legally buy it for themselves, there is a reason, and you have every right as a parent to just say no.
Use online review sites to find a game’s true content. Bottom line, don’t take your kids’ word on a specific game. They can sell it as anything they want – often times without lying but simply withholding elements of the game
Content is very important when it comes to games. You need to know what your kids are seeing and hearing when they play a game. If you can’t sit through a gaming session with them start to finish (in order to review a game), do something like dinner prep while keeping an eye on the screen. Read reviews, ask other parents or trusted young people you know who play games, and be informed about the content. Often the gaming world turns into a cult of sorts, and you want to be sure your child is sticking to the games (and gaming communities) that reflect your values. Unfortunately, you can’t always trust the ratings on the box. We recommend pluggedin.com/games for a good place to start when checking a game out. Another (non-Christian) option is www.commonsensemedia.org
One final thought if you have a gamer in your home: Show interest in their progress and playing choices. The best way to know what they’re doing is to encourage them or watch them play. Not in a “I need to make sure you’re doing good stuff” way, but genuinely trying to care about their interests and progress. You’ll learn something, and there’s a good chance your child will feel like he or she can talk to you about content if it feels uncomfortable or inappropriate.
Pros: In-home recreation, family activity, learning time management
Cons: Wasting time, explicit content, bullying, unmonitored internet access
Parental controls: Organized by brand, time limits
Age recommendation: 8+
Music Players & Music Subscriptions
[message type=”simple”]iPod Nano, iPod Touch, iPod Shuffle, Pandora, Spotify, Rdio, Songza, Grooveshark, Jango, Last.FM[/message]Just like any other piece of technology, music players can be used for good or evil. There are so many good things a music player can be used for: good music, wholesome audiobooks, the audio Bible, etc. If you have a younger child, you should be the one managing the content on the player. We don’t recommend handing your under 12 year old any kind of device that can access an app store or the internet. iPod Nanos are a good option here. Save the Touch for an older child who has been briefed on avoiding inappropriate content and who knows you will be checking up on their music consumption. For tips on how to check up on their music, click here.
Music subscriptions to places like Spotify or Pandora can be a parent’s best friend or worse nightmare. On the one hand, the subscription will eliminate unwanted and oftentimes riske ads. On the other hand, your child then has unlimited access – on whichever device they choose – to virtually any kind of music. Many different bands encourage cult followings or beliefs contrary to those held by families. Our recommendation is to reserve this gift for an older child who has demonstrated good music habits with their music player and is responsible enough not to use their subscription to access damaging music.
Pros: Worship music, audio books, trackable content, premium services (without ads)
Cons: Ads, secular music, private browsing, unlimited access to garbage
Parental Controls: Keep iTunes password, have subscription service under your email and monitor the “recommendations”, use a dock, keep password to streaming service and check in
Age recommendation: 14+ for subscription and streaming services, 8+ for preloaded family content
[message type=”simple”]Asus Touch-Screen, Dell Inspiron, HP – ENVY TouchSmart, HP Pavilion, Chromebook, Apple Macbook Pro/Air, Acer, Lenovo Yoga [/message]
Nowadays, kids need computers for school like previous generations needed the pencil. It’s just the way it is. So, it’s time to make peace with the PCs and Macs in your life. The good news is, there are several things parents can do to child-proof their computers, including doing things like turning off the internet capabilities, filtering websites, setting time limits, etc. However, character training is tantamount to the best filtering software money can buy. Kids need to know that what they do when no one is watching is what really defines their character. It’s when your child becomes more tech-savvy than you are (which seems to be happening younger and younger these days), that you need to pull out the big guns and couple filtering and accountability software with good old fashioned honest conversations about the dangers accessible through technology. Click here for more specific tips on keeping your kids safe on the computer.
Pros: For school, privacy, child-specific controls
Cons: Not fixed location
Parental Controls: Password protection, Covenant Eyes, SpectorSoft
Age recommendation: 14+ (Younger children can use the “family computer”)
[message type=”simple”]iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, iPhone 5s, iPhone 5c, Samsung Galaxy S5, Samsung Galaxy S5 Active, Samsung Galaxy Note 4, HTC – One, Motorola – DROID Turbo 4G, LG G3[/message]
Smartphones are mini-computers and should be treated as such. What you would be concerned about your child getting into on a computer, you should be wary of on a smartphone. Not only that, but this device is pocket-sized and mobile, meaning you cannot simply stick the thing in a high traffic area and hope for the best. Parents are wise to handle smartphones with caution. However, there are a handful of very plus sides when it comes to these devices. You can now feel more secure sending your teen on an errand knowing they have the maps app and will literally only be a call away if they are in trouble. Furthermore, much like a glorified Mp3 player, having a smartphone means you can take the Bible with you, as well as your pre-selected music. That’s a win-win. For more information on mobile devices, click here.
Pros: Family connectedness, maps, take the Bible with you
Cons: Apps, sexting, constant connection with peers
Parental controls: App regulation, eBlaster (Android Only), Disable features (location services, internet browser, iTunes, etc), Covenant Eyes Browser
Age recommendation: 16+ (for younger children, look into purchasing them a “dumbphone”)