Teen Tech Gear: What Are the Essentials?

How you manage your teens' use of technology and which devices you allow them to have determine their online success and safety. Tech gear can enable youngsters to express their creativity, stay in touch with their friends, excel at schoolwork and build the fundamental digital literacy that forms a core of readiness for adult life. At the same time, teens' growing need for independence requires that you set boundaries governing how they interact with gizmos.

Desktop or Notebook Computer

Whether it's a desktop or notebook system, it provides Internet access, entertainment, homework help and social media connections. It backs up data from mobile-device memory cards, including the photos they take with smartphones and digital cameras. As Paul Adkison, founder and CEO of social media monitoring service Zabra, points out, "these days, it's hard for kids to even do their homework without technology being heavily involved. As they get older, it will definitely be a part of their lives. It's better to guide them through the learning process while they're young so they can be responsible and proficient users from the start."

Computers also help youngsters gain basic technology proficiency. Maleea Barnett, Vice President Sales and Marketing of Encore Software, identifies typing prowess as a fundamental part of tech literacy, saying that "teens still need to learn basic skills to use these various pieces of tech gear. Learning to type efficiently is a skill that can be applied to everything from schoolwork to texting."

When your kids clamor for a new computer, consider that acquiring a new system does more than increase their coolness among their friends. "I believe you should keep your tech gear as up-to-date as much as possible, specifically as it relates to security, which should be your primary concern," Adkison says.

Smartphone Use

Katie LeClerc Greer, national expert in Internet/digital safety and technology, says that "Teens don't really need anything but a computer, but I'm hard-pressed to find a teen without a smartphone and/or a tablet." Syncing their smartphones with the family computer enables teens to back up the photos and videos they shoot, access their music libraries and maintain congruent sets of Internet bookmarks. Smartphones also help you keep tabs on your teen, removing the old excuse that "I couldn't call home because I couldn't get to a phone."

Tablet

Barnett considers tablets a great buy for teen tech gifts. "As most teens have a smartphone of sorts, a tablet is a great gift," she says. "Teens can use it for entertainment, education, creative endeavors and more." Tablets provide many of the functional advantages of a computer in a compact size that fits well with teens' focus on mobile access to Internet sites and online content. They also serve as digital substitutes for learning resources and books. Because of their portability, tablets require special rules to maintain parents' ability to supervise teen tech use. Adkison sets time limits on gadget access. "I recommend a family rule that at 'lights out,' all devices are left on the kitchen table until morning."

Safety and Security

Digital safety requires parental supervision as well as teen participation in limits that govern tech use. "It's important that teens establish their own boundaries during these formative years; however, parents need to talk to their teens about the dangers that exist online—between posting (inappropriate) photos on social networking sites and chatting with strangers," Barnett says.

Children lack the maturity to make smart decisions about how much information they share and whom they trust online. LeClerc Greer notes that "Most teens aren't developmentally capable of making the 'best' decisions or envisioning long-term implications. With that, parents are tasked with helping—including their decisions when it comes to technology use." Adkison notes that "More than 55 percent of teens are connected with social media users they have never met."

Along with designating which websites are acceptable and which are off limits, Adkison recommends making technology use public within your home: "Have your teen use his or her devices in the kitchen or living room, where parents can casually monitor use by walking by, in a non-secretive way."

Photo Credits: Describe the Fauna/Demand Media

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