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The seven deadly sins of technology

A smart parent's guide to managing kids' technology.

By Christina Tynan-Wood

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Setting the ground rules

“It’s not fair!” my teenage son recently wailed at me. “Other parents don’t know this much about technology. I want one of them for a mother!” Sure, my feelings were a little hurt by his willingness to dump me for a Luddite. But his lament gave me a window into how completely he would walk over me when it came to technology use if I couldn’t hold my own.

This lament was in response to my efforts to limit his screen time. He sees the average of seven hours and 38 minutes per day kids are consuming media, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation study, as a good thing. But I know that heavy consumers of media tend to get worse grades than kids who watch their intake. And sitting in front of a screen — any screen — can lead to obesity.

I was a geek before I had children. And, more than being able to hit a baseball or bake cookies, it is a skill that has served me while raising my two tech-savvy kids, now 14 and 11. Technology is a big part of growing up these days. Without my geek cred, I would have been buffeted by the winds of peer pressure far more than would have been good for my kids. As a tech journalist (among other things, I write the “Family Tech” column in Family Circle), I get to look at gear before it hits the market and decide what — and how much of it — I want my kids to use.

So I know parents have questions: Is technology making kids’ lives better or worse? Which technology should you embrace or ban? Should computers and other gadgets be treated like books and water — free and readily available — or should you “go Amish” and shut it all off? How do you control how much screen time your kids indulge in? And what age is the right age to say yes?

Of course, the answers to these questions depend on your values, your kids’ desires and abilities, and your budget. But some technologies are better than others (and when I say "better," I don’t mean technically). So here is a breakdown of the basic categories of gear your kids will beg for — and some answers that are better than “Everyone else has it.”

Christina Tynan-Wood has written for Better Homes and Gardens, Popular Science, PC World, PC Magazine, InfoWorld, and many others. She currently writes the "Family Tech" column in Family Circle and blogs at

Comments from readers

"I find the comment about these devices being 'inexpensive' curious - $200 and up (emphasis on the 'and up')is not 'inexpensive'...well, not if you dont get paid to write for a living I guess."
"you gotta be absolutly out of your mind lady.Im in highschool and play video games, text, social network and all that for hours of the day even in school. but i have sucesfully designed my own videogame graphics and am on the verge of being a programmer you know what that meant MO MONEY MO MONEY. I have straight A's and everything, your just another protective mom who doesnt really know anything at all about what you think your talking about. send me an email if you really wanna know soomething"
"You know, as a parent, I can understand half of this article, but once you started to talk about gaming and the Internet I completely broke down. Your discussion upon gaming clearly shows that you have no foundation of knowledge in the subject. There's tons of games which cross platforms, and so forth. You even categorized WOW as a console game when the reality is co the opposite. Speaking in terms of more modern games, RPGs in particular are probably the most powerful tool in terms of learning, at least as much as any given RTS. But I completely misunderstand why a bit of violence and shooting is off put. Kids need to play games and this is probably showing the author's age here. Why let a child watch a cartoon on television? Same idea. It's for the fun of the child and it's through engaging in more mature experiences that a child will grow. Furthermore, the worst is that you completely missed the most important point that you should have enforced: That parents should be actively involved in their child's interests, in this case gaming. Furthermore, there ARE strong parental locks built into these consoles as well as timers- namely on the Xbox 360 (not the wii). The worst point you made was in regards to the Internet. You should never put a block on it. All you're doing is showing a lack of trust between the two of you. And frankly, by their late teens, these kids SHOULD have seen some inappropriate things on the Internet. This whole article is so missing the point. All it's suggesting is that you keep your kid to be your little innocent baby when the reality is that they won't be, and shouldn't be. I think a better point would be this: Be a good parent. Don't let technology raise your child. Instead, become involved. Let them browse the Internet. Let them play games. Just do these things with them as well. "
"As a parent of a 14 and 11 year olds, I disagree with allowing a middle schooler have a cell phone. There are always exceptions and I will preface that children of single parents or divorced parents may be in these exceptional circumstances as well as some others. However middle schoolers should not be in a position where an adult is not present and therefore would always have this supervision and access to phone communication. I personally think making the transition from middle school to high school presents the situation where the teenager will be in more independent situations and should have access to communicating at all times when appropriate. In addition at the high school age, they can appreciate, understand, and learn more about the responsibilities associated with managing a cell phone. Thank you"