By Christina Tynan-Wood
“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.”
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