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.
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
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
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)
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
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
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”)
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”)
The GOV Team
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