Look around the next time you're in a kid-crowded mall or schoolyard. Technology is everywhere: a laptop balanced on the spindly knees of a 10-year-old, a cell phone nestled in the pocket of a second-grader's hoodie. Depending on your parenting style, these sights might make you ask yourself "Are these kids really ready for all these gadgets?" or you may think "Maybe I should get my kid to do that."
Exactly when to introduce your children to different types of technology has become an essential question of digital-age parenting, so we consulted a group of experts from both the medical and the tech worlds in search of advice. They tend to agree that, because kids develop at varying rates, you can't pin the answers to a specific age. But there are some key traits that may signal when they're ready to start living a wired existence -- and some products especially designed to ease them in.
- Allison Druin, Ph.D., director of the Human-Computer Interaction Lab at the University of Maryland
- Michael Osit, Ed.D., psychologist and author of Generation Text
- Andy Petroski, director of learning technologies at Harrisburg University of Science and Technology
- Michael Rich, M.D., director of the Center on Media and Child Health at Children's Hospital Boston
- Karin Vander Ploeg Booth, M.D., developmental and behavioral pediatrician at the University of Chicago Medical Center
Feel free to gift a camera to even the teeniest of artistes. That's because it's a gadget without content of its own. "Nothing offensive is going to accidentally pop up," says Karin Vander Ploeg Booth, M.D. But if anything inappropriate does result, it'll probably be your kid's work. So keep the USB cable tucked away. If she wants to put photos online, you'll be there to ooh and aah -- and, if necessary, ugh! -- over each one.
Click n' Create, by LeapFrog: Stunningly lightweight, with an easy-grip plastic casing that will keep it safe when it inevitably slips out of little hands. Plus, it talks. Video-editing software allows kids to be creative with pics they've uploaded to the family computer. $50, Ages 4 to 8
Kidizoom, by VTech: A bit bulky, but definitely sturdy. Fun, goofy editing software lets you trick out your photos right on the camera. And it records surprisingly awesome video. $60, Ages 5 to 9
LEGO Digital Camera: Terrific picture quality, especially for a camera made of little toy blocks. Five buttons take care of everything. This is a wonderful, simple camera for kids who just want to take good photos. $60, Ages 6 to 12
U-Turn Digital Camera: Finally, kids can do what they've always really wanted to: take shots of themselves. The lens pivots 180 degrees to the same side as the LCD screen, for perfect self-portraits. Great quality, too. $50, Ages 7 to 14