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Think Twice Before Giving The Gift Of Technology

Tech gifts come with responsibility.

This Christmas, technology gifts are on many lists for people playing Santa around the country. It isn’t only mobile phones, computers, and iPods but there are now wifi-enabled gadgets of every shape and size. But you should think twice before giving these gifts, especially to children, or getting them for yourself.

I’m not anti-technology by any means but just because something is new and high-tech doesn’t mean that it is a must-have. For example, a wifi-enabled toaster wouldn’t necessarily a marked improvement over a traditional toaster. Do you really need to check the status of your toast via the internet or be able to control the settings on the device remotely? Probably not.

Even devices that have legitimate reasons to be connected to the internet also come with downsides. One of the most obvious is the potential for internet addiction. The proliferation of smartphones has already left us a nation of social media devotees who eschew real human contact for the instant gratification of likes in an app. Sites like Twitter and Facebook are designed to make people addicted and keep checking the unending timelines.

If this is a problem for adults now, it will be even worse for the next generation who are growing up in with screens constantly in front of their faces. Smartphones and tablets are used as babysitters for young children even though the American Society of Pediatrics recommends that children under two should not get any – zip… zero… zilch – screen time. Children older than two should only get one to two hours of screen time per day. The Society also recommends that screen time be limited for older kids, something that is very difficult when kids have their own personal devices.

It isn’t just that watching digital media can affect the physical, mental, and emotional development of young brains, television has been described as a stranger that we welcome into our homes who then undermines the values that we teach our kids. The internet makes that problem even worse.

Probably the majority of internet videos are unrated. As Forest Gump said, “You never know what you’re gonna get” and you never know what your kids are watching. Many internet videos are laced with profanity and often ridicule the things that we teach our kids, such as respect for God and country or even the idea that you should be polite and kind to others. On the internet, offensiveness has become a virtue. It would be difficult (but not impossible) for kids to get away with watching porn on the living room television, but it is a simple matter for them to do so on their phones and tablets.

Modern video games are not like Pac-Man or Space Invaders. Many of the most popular games are rated mature for foul language, graphic violence, drug use, and casual sex. Your teenagers will want these games. Even kids much younger than teenagers are playing these games because many parents simply don’t care. If you don’t get these games for your kids, they will still have access to them when they visit friends.

The problem isn’t limited to kids with their devices either. If you’re watching this sort of stuff with your kids around then they are absorbing it just as surely as if they clicked play themselves. Parents with a do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do mentality are undermining their own parenting.

There are other factors as well. The internet is a good way to go broke $10 at a time. Just about every app that you download requires a subscription or has in-app purchases. Some have both. In addition to the cost of the device and the internet or cell service, you will want to sign up for services such as Disney Plus ($6.99), Netflix ($8.99), or Hulu ($5.99). Premium plans cost more, of course. Gaming apps and video games have in-app purchases for things that kids will want to enhance their experience. After you buy a game console, your kids will want the membership plan that allows them to play against their friends (and strangers) online. For instance, an Xbox Live subscription is another $9.99 per month. Naturally, most of these subscriptions are set up on recurring credit card billing so it’s easy to lose track of just how much you are spending.

Finally, security is an issue with internet-connected devices. By now, we should all be aware of the threats of strangers who meet online and stalk in real life as well as cyber theft of credit card information. Phishing attacks in which you click on a deceptive link can allow all of your devices to compromised. It was a simple phishing attack through an email with a fake link that allowed the Russians to hack the Democratic National Committee in 2016. Clicking the link allowed the Russians to access the entire DNC network.

The proliferation of internet-connected devices provides many other opportunities for hackers. Smart appliances often do not have cyber defenses that are as robust as computers and smartphones. The gap could compromise your entire home’s network. As far back as 2014, computer security experts traced a cyber attack to a “botnet” made up of home appliances such as internet-enabled refrigerators. Keep in mind that internet-based security cameras, baby monitors, and other home devices could also be accessed by hackers and stalkers.

I’m not saying to avoid technology purchases, but tech products do come with responsibility. If you get your kids devices, you owe it to them to limit their screen time and monitor how the devices are being used. This isn’t easy, but there are tools to help parents. One good resource is Funamo, a cloud-based service that allows parents to monitor and control their children’s phones and tablets for a one-time fee of $19.99.

You should also educate both yourself and your children on internet security. Predators can stalk children online and kids can unwittingly click a bad link that could allow hackers to infiltrate your other devices via a common network. You wouldn’t leave small children alone in the mall with your ATM card. You shouldn’t leave them alone online either.

The key to safe technology is education, awareness, and common sense. Learn about web-based threats and be aware of what your family members are doing online. And don’t buy a wifi-toaster.

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