Curious if this trend held true amongst the middle school students I teach, last holiday season I conducted my own unofficial survey. I asked my students what gift they hoped for most. Overwhelmingly, they told me they wanted headsets, the “voice-activated kind that let you talk to your friends while gaming.” Today over 71 percent of all gamers use headsets so they can converse and work together to device strategies, solve challenges, and defeat enemies. Gadgets like these—anything that connects kids with their friends—are sure to be hot this year too.

The question of when to give your kids tech gifts or connected technology is an important decision a parent will have to make. Remember, “connected” technology includes any gadget that connects your child to others and/or the Internet. This can include interactive gaming devices, smartphones, tablets, computers, gaming consoles (and headsets), e-readers, smartwatches, and even Bluetooth-enabled toys and assistants. All of these can essentially connect your kids to all the world’s people and information, all the time. Any missteps they make on a connected device may be permanently recorded, for everyone to see. This is a weighty responsibility, and most kids are woefully unprepared for this responsibility (and the consequences that come along with it) without your help.

Before buying a connected device for your kids this season, ask yourself some essential questions. These will help you determine if your children are ready for the responsibility that comes along with that shiny new piece of tech.

Kids Tech Gift Readiness Questions

 

  • Have your children developed the social and emotional skills necessary to use their gadgets wisely? Have they learned how to show empathy, kindness, respect, and civility when they engage with numerous faceless others online?

 

  • Do your children know how to keep themselves safe from cyberbullying, predators, sexting, revenge porn, sextortion, and other online dangers? Will they know what to do when they encounter a barrage of f-bombs (and they will) during game play?

 

  • Do your children know how to manage their online reputations? Do they know that everything they post, and everything others post about them, contributes to an online reputation that speaks volumes about their characters and could affect their future pursuits?

 

  • Do your children know how to unplug? By their own accounts, teens say they feel “addicted” to their devices. Have you equipped your children with strategies (and reasons) to unplug from their virtual worlds and plug into “real” life now and then?

 

  • Do your children know how to protect their privacy and personal information? Are they like most kids who, in the excitement to sign up for new services and to share with friends, unwittingly give away too much personal information?

 

  • Do your children know how to critically evaluate the information they find online? Not knowing how to evaluate media for its accuracy, authority, currency, and bias leaves kids vulnerable to misinformation, “fake news,” and more.

 

  • Are your children equipped to be digital leaders? Do they know how to be upstanders? Are they equipped to make their digital world better and safer?

 

If your answer to any of these questions is “no,” then your children are not ready for the massive responsibility that comes with owning a connected device. Sorry, but in my opinion, the stakes are just too high.

The good news is parents can, and should, teach their kids how to use connected technologies safely, kindly, and wisely. Ideally this should happen before kids get their own devices. Schools can help by offering digital citizenship and literacy lesson like my school does. But remember, digital literacy skills can’t be learned overnight. It takes time and patience to teach kids how to manage, rather than avoid, the complexities of the virtual world.

In the meantime consider put a gaming device or a smartphone on your own Christmas list.  Learn how to play Roblox or Fortnite alongside your child. Download and try using Snapchat together (but be mindful of age restrictions and recommendations). There’s no better way to demonstrate how to use connected technology safely and wisely than by doing it together with your children. Plus, the gift of your time may just be the best holiday gift of all.

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Diana Graber DrGreene.com contributor

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