Advice from Real Parents: Navigating the Technology Waters

“Getting information off the Internet is like taking a drink from a fire hydrant.” ~ Mitchell Kapor, pioneer of the personal computer industry

It’s not just the Internet that floods us with information — technology and technological devices are advancing at warp speed and marketers make sure we know it. And with children and teens living in our households, it never seems to stop! When your child wants a new video game or the newest, greatest smart phone or mobile device, what can you do?

It can be helpful to chose acquisitions that truly benefit your family rather than getting swept up by the very powerful and tempting current of fun, cool, exciting “stuff.” We asked ParentFurther writer, and tech-savvy mom to two tech-savvy kids, Jennifer Griffin-Wiesner, to weigh in on which gadgets her friends and family have found to be most worth the investment. Read Jennifer’s list below!

Navigating the Technology Waters: Tips for All Families

By: Jennifer Griffin-Wiesner

  • Tablets and laptops. It’s pretty tough these days for kids to get through school without a computer and Internet access at home. And as my friend, Ed (dad of a college student and a middle schooler) says, “Nobody wants to use the desktop PC; they want their web where they want it.” So while schools and other community organizations (such as libraries) are working to break down the digital divide, families that have the means will be well served by the purchase of one, the other, or both. In our household, we actually have two laptops and a desktop computer. My kids use the desktop and one of the laptops for school and fun, and my laptop is just for my work. I have a friend whose eight-year-old uses the family laptop to maintain a blog as part of a year long school assignment. Her four-year-old has a children’s interactive atlas app loaded onto her iPad, and she says, “He plays with it while his brother works on his blog.” Another family I know hosts a virtual family “game night” via Skype, Google Talk, or Facetime with their college-age kids.

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  • E-Readers. Sometimes even the most reluctant reader can be charmed by this medium. Library rentals and “borrowing” options are becoming easier to use and more abundant, making this a more affordable option that it used to be. Know though, that if you have a tablet you probably don’t need an e-reader as well. Kindle and Nook apps can be downloaded onto just about any mobile device.
  • Smart phones.

Says Search Institute author Tenessa Gemelke, “We have really loved having smart phones with good cameras. All of the grandparents live far away, and this has been a great way to share spontaneous photos and videos. Now it just takes us a few seconds, and they feel as if they have a front-row seat for birthdays and other special events.” Texting is also an important communication medium in our family. Our tween and teen even use it as a discrete way to connect with us to say, “Get me outta here!” when a phone call might not be comfortable.

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  • Kitchen items. As more and more attention is paid to getting kids to eat enough fruits and vegetables, having a few good, reliable kitchen items has become a priority. I suggest a great vegetable peeler and small hand-held or stick mixer at a minimum. Individual coffee/hot chocolate makers are popular right now and they are very convenient, though I’m still happy with my $12.99 old school drug store version. And we’ve recently discovered Sodastream, a device that allows us to make our own carbonated beverages with fruit juice and other natural ingredients. It’s cheaper and healthier than most pre-packaged options.

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  • Other stuff. Headlamps for nighttime reading, clip-on timers for self monitoring things like instrument practice, scanners for electronically saving and sharing school papers and other documents, personal health monitoring systems such as heart rate monitors and calorie/exercise trackers, and a charging station where everyone puts their gadgets at night so they’re ready in the morning (and also not being used for late night Facebooking!).

We like to know what were getting into when we make a purchase. More than once we’ve realized that we didn’t fully understand until too late what the “latest and greatest” gadget actually does, and whether or not it does it well. Here’s a website that has good reviews and descriptions of much of what’s out there.

Do you have a great gadget recommendation? Or horror story? We’d love to hear it! Join the conversation on Facebook >>