Holiday Gift Guide: Top Tips for Safe Tech
The holidays are an exciting time for every kid. But gifting tech-toys isn’t the same as giving them a Lego set. As a parent, you want to make sure your new gift won’t create entry points to pornography, predators, and cyberbullying into your home. So don’t get carried away in the excitement and forget to make a plan for how this new technology will affect your family. Our holiday gift guide has tips on
- choosing the right tech gifts for your kids and
- getting it all set up so that it’s ready to use as safely as possible when they open their gift.
Top tips for all tech gifts
No matter what kind of tech gift your child may receive this year, here are our top tips:
- Be clear that although your child has received a tech gift (whether from you or someone else), your household rules regarding tech still apply. A child’s ownership of an item doesn’t mean they get to make up the rules for use. The parents are still in control. Be sure the rules are clear beforehand and stick to them. You may even want to post them. Use parent controls or timers to help you keep the time in check. Don’t be afraid to set up new boundaries or re-establish rules when the need arises. Consider giving access to games and digital devices instead of the actual items themselves.
- Make sure you talk with your child about the dangers of pornography early and often and give your child a plan ahead of time so that your child won’t be caught off guard when he is exposed to inappropriate content. The Good Pictures Bad Pictures series of books are a great way to get the conversation started.
- Be sure to balance out those tech gifts with non-tech gifts and plenty of other options for their spare time.
Holiday gift guide for video games
Maybe you’re thinking of getting into a new gaming system or just picking up a new game. Either way, there’s a lot to consider when shopping for video games.
Do your research before picking up a video game
The rating on the box may not tell the whole story, especially if the game has online interaction. Follow our 4 step guide to vetting video games. There are even more considerations for online games; make sure your teen can handle it before buying into an MMO.
Read up on parental controls
The Xbox, PlayStation 5, and Switch all have parental controls. Even a PC gaming market like Steam has settings you can turn on to protect your kids from sexual content. Make sure to get these set up before Christmas morning so the excitement doesn’t pressure you into skipping it.
Consider your family rules before Christmas morning
Be prepared to set ground rules for healthy play once the wrapping paper comes off. It’s much harder to roll back later if you let the kids go too far. Make sure it’s clear that your family rules for use still apply even if the game/gaming system is ‘theirs’.
Prepare for discussions about questionable content
Many popular video games contain gender stereotypes and sexual objectification. Take the time to question the assumptions behind the games.
Tablets & Laptops
A new laptop or tablet is guaranteed to have that wow-factor on Christmas morning. Just don’t make the mistake of giving your child an unopened box on Christmas morning. Here are some things to do before gifting a tablet or laptop to set your family up for success:
Set up the parental controls before gifting
Open the box and get the computer ready to go. Set up parental controls for your new Windows device, iPad, MacBook, or Chromebook without an impatient kid breathing down your neck. Setting up Canopy or Bark on the device ahead of time gives even more peace of mind.
Get your router ready
Consider gifting yourself a system like Circle or Gryphon that can provide another layer of protection to your child’s internet use. Router-level protection can block pornography and malware across all your family’s devices, plus turn off the internet when it’s bedtime. Again, get it all set up before your child even opens their new device.
Establish rules beforehand
Even if you already have family screen time rules, getting a new device is a good time to review your standards and think about how a laptop or tablet changes things. Some suggested questions:
- Where will they be allowed to use the laptop/tablet? We recommend keeping all internet devices outside of bedrooms in a public space.
- How long can they use it? Are there different limits on weekends and holidays? How will you enforce them?
- What is your family plan for when (not if!) they see pornography? Make a plan for how they should tell you and plan in advance how you will react.
Give the gift of digital safety training
You wouldn’t let your kids drive a car without any training, so why hand them a device that launches them on the digital superhighway before they learn the safety rules? Consider our Brain Defense: Digital Safety program to arm your kids against internet dangers like porn, predators, cyberbullying.
Phones & Smartwatches
Every kid wants their own smartphone, but not all kids need them. Here are some tips to decide what device is best for your child and how to set it up to keep them as safe as possible. Again, you'll want to set up those parental controls before giving!
Make sure they're ready
Use our readiness checklist to guide your decision before making that big purchase. The last thing you want is to discover your child isn't ready for the responsibility that a smartphone brings after giving them a smartphone.
Consider a smartwatch instead
At Defend Young Minds, we strongly discourage smartphones until at least 8th grade (maybe even later depending on the kid). Smartwatches are a great phone-alternative for the elementary and tween crowd. If you need to be in contact with your child, but they aren’t ready for the internet in their pocket, this could be a great choice for you. Check out our comparison guide on three popular smartwatches.
Think carefully about which phone is best for your child
If your child is ready for a phone, how do you know which one is safest? Our Smartphone Gift Guide will help you figure out which is best for your child.
Set up those parental controls BEFORE giving
If your teen is responsible enough for a smartphone, you’ll still want to use parental controls to guide them towards healthy usage. We have an updated guide comparing parental controls on smartphones. We also recommend setting up Canopy on phones. Canopy uses AI to block out porn and sexting far better than the phone’s parent controls. Make sure to set all this up before wrapping!
Monitor for safety
As your teen communicates more with friends online, we recommend using Bark to watch for warning signs while honoring their privacy. Bark uses AI to detect cyberbullying, conversations about self-harm, grooming, violence, drugs/alcohol, etc. Their service will alert you to a problem so that you can help your teen through it.
A bit of planning before purchasing that tech gift will set you up for success down the road. Making sure your child is ready, choosing the right tech gift and getting some safety measures in place ahead of time will help your kids enjoy their new gifts and keep them safe at the same time.
Brain Defense: Digital Safety Curriculum - Family Edition
"Parents are desperate for concepts and language like this to help their children. They would benefit so much from this program - and I think it would spur much needed conversations between parents and children.” --Jenet Erikson, parent