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Ask an Expert: Buying tech gadgets for kids/teens as holiday gifts.

Q. What should parents consider when thinking about buying new technological gadgets for their kids this holiday season?

A. Voltaire warned us that “with great power comes great responsibility,” and as gadgets advance further with each passing release, parents may feel trepidation as they think about handing over the season’s latest device to a child. What follow are some special considerations for mobile technology for school-aged children.

Get smart: Smart phones and parental controls

risk of untimely exposure to mature or disturbing content, sexually explicit material, contact with strangers, and cyberbullying.

Thankfully, almost all of these gadgets come with helpful parental controls; generally, the more sophisticated the gadget, the more sophisticated the restrictions. Parental controls are built into Apple’s iOS, the mobile device operating system that comes on devices like iPods, iPhones and iPads.

Here’s a detailed explanation of how to turn on Parental Controls in iOS5, from Ask Dave Taylor. The Android OS also has a lot of third-party developed Parental Control applications, and a few useful options are outlined here, by Kids and Media.

If you are thinking of giving your child an iPhone or iPod Touch, check out 11 Things to Do Before Giving Kids an iPod Touch or iPhone, which includes setting up parental controls, setting up an iTunes allowance for app and music purchases, and setting an access passcode that you and your child can remember.

Protect your investment: Repair and replacement

  • Most adults can’t keep all accidents from happening to their gadgets, so consider a warranty or device replacement plan. After all, many of the latest smartphones and gadgets have glass screens. And though it’s reinforced, heavy-duty Gorilla glass that enhances the screen’s colors and the device’s touch capabilities, it’s still glass.
  • Be wary of free warranty plans provided by third-party companies, as they could be scams; consult a reputable source like Consumer Reports or the Better Business Bureau to check out any company names before making a warranty purchase. Some warranties can only be bought at the time the device is purchased, so ask your sales clerk for details.
  • Additionally, contact your family insurance agent before visiting the store to see if they would cover repair or replacement costs.

Boon or bane: Mobile devices and schools

Schools have been struggling with what to do with mobile technology, as their firewall evasion capabilities race beyond schools’ capacity to update their infrastructure. Although some schools are making efforts to integrate technology with learning, many are still caught between banning and bonding with new technologies.

In May 2011, The National Association of Secondary School Principals released a position statement about mobile technology in the classroom, urging schools to work with technology instead of against it, and even outlined specific steps leaders should take towards this end. The Department of Education’s 2010 report, “Transforming American Education: Learning Powered by Technology,” urges schools to leverage technology to provide richer learning experiences, better assessment systems, and to improve student learning and teacher collaboration.

Regardless, many schools are still banning cell phones and other mobile devices for now, so know your school’s current rules about phones and other gadgets, before sending their new devices with them to school.

Mobile devices and your child

Technological ubiquity can also be a new source of anxiety for kids. Close to half of teens feel the strain, as “48 percent of cell-owning teens get irritated when a call or a text message interrupts what they are doing, compared with 38 percent of the cell-owning parents.” The younger the child is, the more likely they are to feel annoyed by their phone.

Developing a healthy sense of balance between the offline and online is a process, and kids, particularly younger kids and teens, could use some help figuring out when it’s time to put down (or turn off) the phone and connect with their surroundings and concentrate on an important task, like studying for a test.

  • You can start by limiting the time they spend on devices, but better yet, shift the responsibility to them. The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project found that unlimited plans are tied to an increase in use of phones, while teens on “metered” plans are much more circumspect in their usage.
  • Consider the cell phone bill as a starting point for a technological armistice. Further, as suggested in this article from Great Schools, consider having the child pay for the phone bill herself.
  • If you can work with your child around metering their own usage, you may also be helping them manage their distraction or discomfort their ultra-connectedness may bring. It may help kids better manage their time when attempting to complete any task that requires prolonged concentration. After all, this responsibility shifts entirely to them once they head to into adulthood.

– By Samantha Harms

About our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.

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