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Parenting's Guide to Tech Gear for Kids

MP3 Players

First things first: Stay away from earbuds, which send sound directly into the middle ear, raising the risk of hearing damage. "Volume is a major problem with kids," says Dr. Vander Ploeg Booth. "At least with headphones, the sound isn't directly impacting the eardrum." To become the proud owner of her own MP3 player, your kid should be the sort who'll reliably keep the volume below 80 to 85
decibels (usually about half the loudest possible). Another issue: If you have to manage her time for her, she's not ready. "Creating playlists can be as much a part of a young person's identity as anything else," says Dr. Rich, "but they're a time suck." And children who have a tendency to zone out in front of a TV (or even a book) can be twice as difficult to engage if they're lost in a Zune zone.  

Disney Mix Stick Lights: Software connects you to Disney Mix Central, a sort of Mouse-sanctioned iTunes where kids can set up playlists and download new music (you can add songs from any other MP3 source as well). Lights on the player flicker and flash to the beat of whatever song she's playing. $40, Ages 6 to 12

Hello Kitty MP3 Player: A simple player with room for plenty of music and an easy-to-use interface. But the real highlight is changeable faceplates for customized style. $30, Ages 6 to 10

Ribbit, by Nextar: Up to a thousand songs on something pocket-size -- and cute to boot. Volume and song selection are controlled by turning the frog's buggy eyes. $10, Ages 5 to 10