What’s the best age to give a kid an iPod touch?

This is a question I get asked a lot, and to be honest, I don’t think there’s an easy answer. Every kid is different and every family has different thoughts and experiences. It’s a good question and it’s worth discussing with your partner before making the leap. Here are a few things to think about before plunking down your credit card:

1) Consider the age of the child, keeping in mind that age does not necessarily equate to maturity.

I personally think most kids under the age of 10 are not responsible enough to own an iPod touch. The fact that it’s an expensive item that can easily end up in the washing machine is one thing, but iPod ownership also opens up a can of worms in terms of unsupervised web surfing, and most kids really aren’t ready for it.

Consider what gadgets you already have in the house and use this as a bargaining chip. For example, a family iPad or tablet might delay the purchase for a while and be the ideal “trial run” for a young user. This can help you can assess whether your child is mature enough to handle their own device.

2) Don’t dismiss alternate gift ideas

Isn’t it a good idea to keep kids playing with toys for as long they can? They’re going to spend the rest of their lives glued to one screen or another, so why rush it?  I think a lot of parents - not to mention grandparents - default to iPods as gifts because they aren’t aware of all the other great games and toys that are out there for kids today. There are so many wonderful things you can give kids that don’t fall into the high-tech category: skateboards, swings, books, bikes, sports gear, wagons, scooters games, puzzles. The list of “stuff” you can buy for kids is endless. I believe that giving a child an experience makes for longer-lasting memories: art lessons, soccer camp, a dozen movie passes, a holiday. Again, endless ideas! Ask yourself: if I give my child an iPod this year, what will she expect for her birthday next year?

3) Talk about the rules and set some limits right off the bat.

It’s easier to lay down the law at the outset and make sure everyone is on the same page regarding usage. Some good rules to consider:

  • Putting clear limits on usage. One of the rules is our house is that no one (parents included!) is allowed to bring the device to the table while everyone is eating. My kids also have to put their devices away an hour before bedtime. They’re always supposed to be charging downstairs while they’re getting ready for bed. Doing one thing at a time is a big deal in our house. For example, no walking down the stairs while texting, no surfing the Internet while brushing your teeth. This rule is not just out of concern for their safety, I worry about the development of multi-tasking brains and how it erodes focus.

    Some parents only let their kids use their devices for a certain amount of time every day, and some tie them to chores. I also think it’s important to talk about the times that iPod usage may be inappropriate. This is a tough one for kids to figure out on their own, and they really need guidance as each scenario comes up. For example, there’s another family at our place for a BBQ. Q: Where are the devices? Answer: they are put away, and not to be used when other people are visiting (at least at our house). Kids need to work on their conversation and socialization skills, and this is where it’s done.
  • Then there’s the whole social media thing: texting, Twitter, Snapchat. If your child has an iPod, the desire to socialize online with friends will certainly follow. Stay one step ahead of the kids and educate yourself, and remember, it’s okay to tell your kid you need some time to think about it before saying yes or no.

If you DO buy an iPod for your child, make sure that you have the “find my iPod” app installed. (It might save everyone some stress if it ever gets misplaced.) Turn off geo-location services used by other apps and install the free Disconnect Kids app to block mobile tracking.  It’s also a good idea to oversee the downloading of apps and music, this can be done relatively easily if all family members use the same Apple ID. It’s a good idea to have your child’s password too. (You can read a past post about that right here.)  

Any other tips to share about introducing younger tweens to iPods and iPhones? I’d love to hear your suggestions.