Kids Electronics

Is it healthy for kids to have the latest gadgets?

Children will always require care and supervision, whether they're playing tag in the tick-laden, snake-infested park down the street or navigating the pop-up ridden World Wide Web. Many parents vow to avoid technological toys after hearing about "game addiction" and being bombarded with stories about childhood obesity. This sort of black-and-white logic would seem to indicate children should never play outside just because there are bears in Yellowstone Park, and we can all see how silly that is!

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Technology, like nature, is a part of our world that can be as dangerous as it is fascinating. You may believe you're being a "good parent" by sheltering your child from technology, but in reality you're robbing him of an opportunity to learn and grow. Teaching a child to use technology wisely, safely and ethically is just as important as teaching her to stop and smell the roses while stepping over the poison ivy.

For example, while cell phones can be an unneeded distraction for a popular high school student, the Firefly phone is a great way to make sure your young child can always reach you in an emergency. With just five buttons, it allows the child to call a few preset numbers. Wouldn't this little gadget give you some peace of mind when your kids are out riding bikes or walking home from school?

Video games are another double-edged sword. It can be hard to put down the controller in favor of studies or family, and time limits are a parenting "must." However, there are many games that provide a great deal of education along with entertainment. Rome: Total War, for example, is a strategy game appropriate for high school students (and adults). Playing as one of the great Roman factions, your teen will have so much fun she won't even notice she's learning about economics, geography, politics and history. The player chooses which historically researched buildings to construct, and can recruit a variety of authentic military units to conquer the (historically accurate) map of the ancient world. Most importantly, the player has to allocate financial resources to keep the people happy while he funds a multi-front war at the same time. It's easy to "learn" about history, but much harder to truly understand it. This game teaches how rulers are forced to make difficult decisions because of limited resources. That's something you can't appreciate by reading about it.

Music has many benefits and plays a major role in pop culture and the formation of personal identity. In the '80s, kids played their favorite cassette tapes on Walkmans; in the '90s, they played CDs on portable CD players. Today, digital music and mp3 players are becoming the norm. While it's unlikely your child needs the fanciest iPod, a small mp3 player and a subscription to an mp3 downloading site will allow your child to explore music and define his or her musical tastes. Setting a limit on the number or cost of downloads will also help your child learn to prioritize purchases and manage his or her monetary resources carefully -- valuable lessons that all children should learn.

Giving your child access to a home computer or laptop can be worrisome, especially after reading stories about online predators and ubiquitous pornography. Monitoring software like Net Nanny can turn this difficult dilemma into a no-brainer. You can block inappropriate sites, monitor chat activity, and set time limits while still giving your child all the educational benefits of the Internet.

Remember, the online world is occupied by real people with real opinions, ideas, personalities and faults. There are many Web pages with biased or misleading information, as well as many excellent scholarly sites. It's difficult to tell which is which, just as it's difficult to decide who to believe and trust when engaging in face-to-face interactions. If you can help your child learn to think critically about the information he or she finds online, you'll be teaching a valuable lesson that applies in all human interaction.

Parenting in a high-tech world is a matter of helping your child avoid dangers, overcome obstacles, and balance his or her time between entertainment and work. In fact, it's just like parenting in any time period or culture. Sure, keeping up on the technological innovations that are catching your kids' attention can be tough. But, hey – nobody ever said parenting was for sissies, right?

By Theano