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Safe Holiday Tech Gadgets: Five Things Every Parent Should Do
By Mary Kay Hoal

The countdown to Christmas has already started. Because Santa's elves need help, you may have asked your children to create a holiday wish list, and if your kids are like mine, there's at least one technological gadget on their list this year. My 8-year-old wants a new iPod, my 12-year-old wants a new Xbox and my 13-year-old wants an iPhone 5.

Whatever the gadget is, if it connects to the Internet, there are five things you need to do before giving it to your child. These precautionary steps are key to making sure your child has a healthy, happy, safe, and age-appropriate experience with their new digital device.

First, start by talking to your child. 

Regardless of their age, it's important that your children understand your ground rules for technology use. Technology isn't a right, it's a privilege - and a fun and educational one at that. Conversely, there are many concerning aspects to the use of technology that begs for parental involvement and attention.

If you have room in your budget to purchase the specific gadget that your child wants, let them know that you want them to experience all the great benefits that it has to offer. Also, let your child know that there are rules they will need to follow if they want that gadget, and that you expect them to follow those rules without any exceptions.

Help your children follow your family's technology rules with this printable Technology Contract.

Once you've established a comfortable dialogue related to their technology use, keep the conversation going on a regular basis. It's critical that your children confide in you when they have questions about safe tech etiquette or, worst case scenario, something really concerning comes up. Soon they will realize that, while you may not be an expert, you care about their safety and you're fully aware of the fact that there's much to be gained with new technology when used responsibly.

Second, if necessary, steer your child in a different direction.

I told my 8-year-old daughter, who is an avid reader, that I'd much rather see her reading than spending time in front of an iPod just playing games (that's why she wants one). We sat down and I showed her some alternatives that cater better to her interests, such as Amazon's Kindle, the Nook by Barnes & Noble, and the new tablet from Toys R Us. While Santa's purchase decision is still-to-be-made, she had no idea that tablets like these could hold hundreds of her favorite books and games too! 

If your child is relentless about getting an iPod - they're a wonderful gift - please be sure to read how I made my son's family-friendly ready so he was able to enjoy all that it offered, and I didn't have to stress out about the content he was accessing.

Third, consider waiting a year before you jump in too far. 

Recognize that a smartphone is the exact same thing as putting a computer in the palm of your child's hand, minus all the safeguards and filters you have on your home computer. Four out of five of my children have their own cell phone. Each of them had to wait until they were 12 to get their first phone, and you can bet we didn't start with smartphones. I wanted each of them to first prove, for a year, that they could follow our family's technology rules. A year later, they were able to graduate on to a safety-enabled smartphone that came with limitations, like AT&T's Smart Limits. Most of the major cell phone providers have family safety plans like this - you can find them listed here. These tools made it easy for me to put the same types of filters and restrictions that exist on our home computer on their smartphone, allowing my children to follow our family rules more easily.

Fourth, get your child's "buy-in" before you gift the digital device.

My son, who wants an iPhone 5 for Christmas, knows that his phone will be safety enabled. That means Safari will be replaced with the AVG Family Safety browser, and restrictions will be set related to his age on apps, music and videos.

My son also wants an Instagram account, to which I've said no. If you want to know why, you can read about the facts here. He and I have talked about my specific concerns after he read the research related to the app.  While he understands the reasons for my apprehension, he isn't happy with my decision.  He still hasn't committed to putting the phone on his final "wish list" since it won't come with everything he'd like. So Santa is giving him another few weeks to decide since his buy-in is key.

Fifth, safety-enable any gadget that you give your child before it's wrapped.

These links provide you with step-by-step picture instructions that show you how to safety-enable the following devices:
Finally, enjoy!!

There are lots of age-appropriate apps and games that you can set up on your child's new digital device. For a list of what I recommend, review this list here. Whether it's a membership to the award-winning kids' social network, or a fun video game like Dance Central, enjoy the experience with your family.

The bottom line is: You shouldn't lose sleep over technology. Responsible parenting these days demands being digitally involved, digitally educated, digitally aware and digitally proactive. Exercising these simple steps will help you become that kind of parent, and that's a wonderful place to be in this holiday season and as we move into the New Year!

Mary Kay Hoal
is a nationally recognized expert on children's social media and online safety. She is the founder and president of Yoursphere Media Inc., which focuses on the family and publishes the kids' social network  - sign your kids up today!  Mary Kay also offers parents Internet-safety information at She has been profiled on CNN, BBC, E!, Fox & Friends, TIME, Lifetime TV and many others. Mary Kay is a contributor to ABC's 20/20 as their family Internet-safety expert. For more information, visit Permission granted for use on
Tags: Christmas presents, Family, Holidays, Internet, Internet-Media, Internet/Media, iPhone, Kids, Parenting, Raising kids, Relationships, Relatives, Social Media, Technology
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