All I Want for Christmas is…a Laptop!

Laptop computers undoubtedly top the Christmas lists of many school-aged kids. After all, computers appeal to children for many reasons: the ability to surf the web at leisure, the thrill of messaging friends (away from the watchful eye of parents) and the prospect of gaming all hours of the night. But is giving a child a laptop truly in his or her best interest? Or is the laptop the one Christmas gift that you shouldn’t give?

To answer that question, parents must first take an inventory of their child’s needs and skills as well as of the academic requirements of their school. Parents should also assess their ability and desire to monitor how their child uses the laptop. Finally, as with any technology purchase, they need to consider the cost.

The computer is, without doubt, a powerful learning tool that, used properly, can significantly enhance the conventional learning environment. Critics, however, point out that, in the hands of many young people, computers are more likely to serve as a form of entertainment than as a tool for learning. For that reason, parents need to know up front what programs their child will be using on the computer. Otherwise, they may end up spending money on what amounts to little more than a very expensive toy.

There is also the issue of age-appropriateness, a question to which researchers have no definitive answer. The debate centers on the type of learning that takes place at different stages in a child’s development. Some experts contend that placing laptops in the hands of youngsters under the age of seven is inappropriate because children at this stage learn primarily by using their senses in the course of carrying out activities. Why have a child point and paint on a computer monitor, these critics would ask, when the child could just as easily be given a piece of paper and some finger paints? Critics also argue that introducing children to computers at too early an age hinders the development of their social skills. Making face-to-face friends is quite different than establishing a relationship with a virtual “friend.”

On the positive side, most parents and educators will readily admit that teens’ knowledge of the computer and its capabilities is vastly superior to their own. These NET Generation kids, as they are called, will undoubtedly have a chance to put their computing skills to great use. And it is these kids who would likely benefit most from having a laptop.

Before making a purchase, however, parents should ask themselves the following questions. First, what is most important to you in a computer: power or portability? Most laptops are not as powerful or as upgradeable as their desktop counterparts. Keep in mind that technology changes quickly and, if you can’t upgrade, you’ll have to repurchase. Second, are you concerned that your child might damage the computer by toting it around? If so, you might consider a desktop computer, which is generally less expensive that a laptop to repair. Third, are you concerned about your child’s safety and security on the web? Because laptops are portable, they lend themselves to private web surfing and/or instant messaging, which may be of concern to some parents.

Purchasing a laptop or any personal computer for the home is not a decision to be taken lightly. The great advantage of laptops is, undoubtedly, their portability and ease of use. Yet, when purchasing a computer, parents need to consider such other factors as the family’s overall needs, the cost and, most importantly, the appropriateness of the technology to the age of the children who will be using it.

More information about kids and computers is available on these websites:

Kids Source Online
This website addresses the issue of when children should start using computers. It also discusses how technology can help young people to learn.

Media Awareness Network
This website contains a lot of information about computers and technology relevant to parents and young people. Among the issues addressed is computer safety.