Gifts That Should Have Strings Attached

Remember the good old days (a few years ago), when you grimaced over the $99 price tag of the generic MP3 your child wanted for Christmas? The next year there was the iPod Touch, and after that, the wii. Each year as the price climbed, the parental sigh dropped an octave.

Topping this year’s list of most wanted Christmas gifts are, surprise-surprise, electronic devices including the iPad. A tablet is a big investment, especially here in Australia were the standard 16GB wireless-only device costs around the $600 mark.

A financial outlay for a gift of this calibre, however, is not without its parental perks. Among the most important is that it is a gift that should have strings attached. An opportunity this potent should be thoroughly and deftly exploited by parents.

With the giving of any electronic device, there exists the potential to educate and equip your children in the responsible use of media. (Sadly, this rarely happens.) When you hand over the coveted iPad to your eager teens, I adjure you parents to hand it over with great, big, fat caveats dangling off of it.

Insist that they are aware of and understand the strings attached to this gift. Take the time to tell them explicitly what the limits and expectations are (and who the boss is, if hitherto there has been any doubt. See what I mean by “parental perks?”). Here are a few “strings” you should consider attaching to your iPad gift.

  1. The iPad is not a one-way ticket to Never-Neverland. Rather, define it first and foremost as a tool for communication and, yes, for school work. Following in a distant second, it is an apparatus for entertainment. Discuss what sites, apps and games are allowed and when. Perhaps a rule in your family is that FaceBook is allowed only on weekends. Don’t lose this golden opportunity to make some changes for good, people!
  2. Misuse results in loss of privileges. It might be “their” iPad, but it is your house, and your wi-fi network, and your internet plan. To enjoy privileges in those domains, they have to follow your rules. By the way, now is the right time to spell out what you deem to be “misuse.” Cover daily time limits, care of the device, cost of breakage/repairs, appropriate sites, etc. It is not excessive to put these matters in writing; in fact it is a very good idea. See the drop-down page on this website titled Internet Use Contracts.
  3. Set a daily Power Down Time as a non-negotiable. This involves the young people switching off the device at a reasonable, agreed-upon hour and plugging it in to recharge in the parents’ bedroom. You may take this opportunity to add mobile phones to the recharging regime. If all of these devices are safely stowed in the parents’ bedroom, the teenagers will not text, tweet, or FaceBook into the wee hours, thereby wrecking their sleep and compromising their sanity. Be prepared for their lament about needing the device in their room for the alarm function by handing them an old-fashioned, bone-rattling alarm clock (without a snooze button). You’ll be glad you did.
  4. Establish a Media Sabbath. While this sounds extreme, the premise is that a regularly scheduled day of rest from all forms of non-urgent media will do your family good. Once a week or once a month–schedule it for your family’s needs. Use the Media Sabbath to play together, stretch those muscles, and give the eyeballs a day off from computer glare. It’s good for everyone, and it helps keep a healthy balance

So you see, an iPad is a gift that should have strings attached. Be sure to exploit those strings for everything they are worth, and you will be fulfilling your parental duty to train your young person in healthy media use. Your boundaries and interventions will help assure your child maintains balance and develops good habits.