This holiday season, there are more considerations when finding the right tech gifts for kids. Some of this tech carries more benefits than just being a shiny new toy. Unlike previous years, it has become a vital connection to the outside world — learning in the stay-in-at-home classroom and staying connected with extended family.
“Because of the pandemic, we’ve had so many opportunities to see what kids do online,” says Elizabeth Milovidov, an attorney and eSafety expert on digital parenting. Just because we’re feeling more comfortable with using tech in our homes, that doesn’t mean the decision to buy a new device shouldn’t still pass through a few quality safety checks.
To help parents feel more empowered this holiday season, we asked Milovidov and other leading experts in family safety, education and digital parenting for their tips on how to find the best tech gifts for kids. Here’s what they said.
Your starting point: a checklist for each tech gift
The first step is to establish the parameters for what makes the gift a good one, beginning with these questions:
Is it age-appropriate for your child?
Run the device past other parents. What was their experience?
Does it have a rating on Common Sense Media? The research-based group reviews tech and entertainment for parents and educators.
Test yourself: If it’s a connected device, can you easily understand the parental control and security options?
You might also want to start with the basics and consider whether or not the product has the necessary tools to do schoolwork, says Stephen Balkam, CEO and founder of the Family Online Safety Institute: “Is there a need for a new laptop, or a tablet, or some other kind of device they’ll need to talk with their teacher or collaborate with other students in class?”
The use of augmented, virtual and mixed reality in classrooms is on the rise, and that trend is here to stay, says Jaime Donally, an expert on the subject.
“It’s not a fidget spinner,” she says. “It’s not going away.”
When you start shopping for tablets, look for one with access to front- and rear-facing cameras, Donally says—essential for accessing augmented reality apps. This feature has become more standard in the past few years, but double-check to be sure the tablet can switch between the different cameras—otherwise, it limits activity and interactions.
She also recommends that the tablet have access to an AR app — the most advanced augmented reality for mobile devices is Apple’s ARKit or Google’s ARCore technology, Donally says.
What you should know: While kids might be asking for the latest, most expensive tablets and laptops, there are more affordable options with the features above. Verizon’s Smart Family app recently added tablets to the list of devices that parents can control, making it easier to manage content, screen time and communication with tools for content filtering, monitoring web and app activity, and pausing the internet.