5 Kinds of Devices for Your Tween and How to Choose the Right One

In my own family I have three children and I’ve started each one on a different device, for a different reason. It’s those last four words that are key.

You have to figure out the reason for the device and how it will be used. And once you do that, it will become super easy to know which device to choose!

So I’m going to tell you my stories with my own children so that you can use them as examples and maybe as parallels for what might be happening in your own home with The Choosing A Device Dilemma.

Now you might be thinking that your own children are way too young for their own device, and my goodness, I so get that!

Inside this article I’ll share the ages that my own children got their devices from my husband and I, their grandparents, and even from school so that you can tuck away this information and pull it out when the time feels right for you and your family!

Let’s dig in!

Image via Unsplash

iPad

I’ll start off by saying that the very first device that entered my children’s lives was an iPad. We got a family iPad when my kids were 5, 3, and 1 years old and we used it for things like if we were going out to dinner or if my girls had a dance class and I had my youngest with me, I’d create an activity bag for the kids and I’d include the iPad right inside that bag to use for playing games or for watching a single show on YouTube. This way they could practice having a device as a choice in activity rather than the only choice of what to do. This leads to a balanced approach to their technology use.

iPod

My in-laws bought my oldest an iPod when she was 9 years old. Now knowing that all three of my children are so into music, I know that this would have been a great device choice for all of them. But at time, she was the one who was showing interest in playing an instrument (saxophone, just like her dad!) and to this day — at age 14 and even though she has a smartphone — she still uses her iPod to listen to music while she’s doing her homework, relaxing, and even while she’s doing chores! She loves it and it’s definitely her go to. So if your purpose is the ability to listen to music, an iPod might be the best choice for your and your child. Please note that you can have games and chat features on iPods, so you’ll want to discuss with your child if those are okay to have and use. This device choice leads to teaching your child to use devices for a purpose.

Smart phone

My oldest got a smart phone at a relatively young age — she was only 10 years old! Our reasons for getting her one were that she was playing volleyball until 10:PM at night; she had a new group of friends who she was spending a lot of time with so she was at peoples’ houses and in peoples’ cars who I didn’t know; and she was super responsible and responsive to the ground rules that we’d set for device use.

Meaning, if we said “do this”, she did it without any pushback and without any secrecy or sneakiness so we felt like we could trust her. And when she did make a mistake with her device use — because she’s human so of course that’s bound to happen! — she was very quick to listen to our redirection and to fix her mistakes, learn from them, and do better the next time.

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So she was ready for a smart phone right away. We started her off with just texting and photos and then added one social media app at a time.

This one step at a time approach leads to learning the skills she needs to have a healthy relationship with technology really solidly.

My middle child, however, didn’t get a smart phone until she was almost 13 years old. She started off with a “dumb” phone. Below, is why.

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“Dumb” phone

My middle child started off with a “dumb” phone, which was just my old phone that was only connected to wifi. She could text certain people with it and take photos with it and, in the beginning, that was plenty for her.

Every once in awhile, she would download games on that phone. But to this day, all three of my children’s game and app downloading is connected to my husband’s and my email account so that we have to approve their downloads. But that’s another topic, for another article. 🙂

So why did we start my middle child on a “dumb” phone when at a two-years-younger age her older sister had gotten a smart phone? Well, quite frankly, she just wasn’t ready.

She was a lot more developmentally predictable, meaning what one would expect from a 12 year old. She still lied sometimes about her phone and app use. Nothing terribly concerning, more of a  “Who me? Couldn’t be!” type of thing. But this told us that if she wasn’t ready to be upfront and open with us when the stakes were small — how much time she played on an app, for example — then we certainly weren’t ready to “raise the stakes,” so to speak, with a more powerful tool. We had some more learning and practicing to do first.

Also, we would teach her the skills we wanted her to have with device use, and while she was extremely open and would talk to us about (seemingly) anything, we would have to repeat the lessons and conversations with her. I.E. She kept making the same mistakes over and over again until they would stick.

So she just wasn’t ready and she wasn’t involved in the kinds of activities that her sister was. The activities that she was involved in were not drop off activities; I was right there with her.

So the “dumb” phone gave us a contained way to practice the skills that we needed her to have before we got her a smart phone about a year later. By then, we already knew that she had some of those skills firmly in place before we gave her access to something as powerful as a smart phone.

So we chose a smart phone as a first device for one chiild. Then a “dumb” phone for the second child. And the third child? He’s using a walkie-talkie. Just kidding. 🙂

He actually did use a walkie-talkie for bit! He was 9 years old when we moved into a new neighborhood and he was suddenly out and about all the time and in and out of people’s houses who my husband and I didn’t know yet. And while I wanted to say YES to that kind of childhood, it made me nervous!

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So for awhile, we used a walkie-talkie so that we could get in touch with each other while we was out and about. I wanted him to practice being responsible for his device and to practice communicating with me where he was and what he was doing while he was away from me.

Now we’re finding that the walkie-talkie doesn’t reach quite as far as I’d like it to and I also wanted him to start taking more responsibility for coming home when I needed him to, to get ready for his evening activities, for example. So my youngest child’s first real device will be a Gizmo watch. Below, is why.

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Image via Verizon

GizmoWatch

So the GizmoWatch is a name brand, and the most popular one I’ve heard of, but you can get any version of a “smart-ish” watch for kids. (*emphasis on the “ish” — this does not have the full capabilities of a smart watch that you or I might buy for ourselves!)

The benefits of a watch like this include:

  1. You can put a specific number of contacts into the watch (5-10) and your child won’t be able to send or receive texts or calls from anyone else.

  2. The person labeled as “main” (at my house this is me!) gets the privilege of auto-answer. Meaning, if he doesn’t answer my call, the watch auto-answers and my voice comes out of it like the voice of God. This works great if a child is ignoring the call, not hearing the call, or is maybe wearing winter gloves and can’t quite manage to answer the call. (*I live in Minnesota where it’s winter 6 months out of the year, can you tell? 🙂

Truth telling, responsibility, touching base, using his device as a tool — we’re going to use the GizmoWatch to practice all of these skills in a super-duper contained space.

This is a perfect fit for us while he’s not ready for anything else and he, quite honestly, just doesn’t need anything else.

That bolded word need is what I’ll conclude this article with. Families often ask me how I’ve answered the indignant cries of, “It’s not fair” when I tell the tale of giving each child a different first device.

This is a really good and relatable question! What I rely on is what I used to rely on inside my classrooms: one of my favorite quotes:

Fair means that everyone gets what they need.

What do you think?

5 Kinds of Devices for Your Tween and How to Choose the Right One

Galit Breen is the bestselling author of Kindness Wins, a simple guide to teaching your child to be kind online; the TEDx Talk, “Raising a digital kid without having been one”; the online course Raise Your Digital Kid™; and the Facebook group The Savvy Parents Club. She believes you can get your child a phone and still create a grass-beneath-their-bare-feet childhood for them. Galit’s writing has been featured on The Huffington Post; The Washington Post; Buzzfeed; TIME; and more. She liv ... More

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