Tech toys are all the rage this holiday gift-giving season, and I have a request for all the cool, creative, and wired aunts, uncles, and friends who are choosing presents for the kids in their lives. Please consult with parents before you buy a child a high-tech gift, especially any toy or gadget that has an online connection.
Just as you wouldn't spring a puppy on a family as a surprise, you should check in with parents before you give a tech toy. I can testify on behalf of frazzled parents, even those of us with a techie bent ourselves, that we are dancing as fast as we can to keep up with the implications of computers, gadgets, and online communication for our kids.
To give one example, in our hometown there is intense peer pressure among tweens to get a Webkinz. I have talked to many parents whose kids first went online after receiving a Webkinz as a gift, including some parents who didn't even realize that the stuffed animals had a social-networking component. Some families who have taken the online plunge are not happy with their experience. While some parents are embracing Webkinz and Club Penguin as sites they perceive as safe, others are dismayed that their children are getting into surfing at such a young age and being socialized as online consumers. (Disney is investing more in Club Penguin than News Corp. paid for MySpace: you can bet they're busy figuring how to make money from their potential $700 million deal).
There are so many gadgets that are being designed to appeal directly to kids, including Web cams, digital cameras, MP3 players, and cell phones. These can be great additions to a family's life when parents are ready to embrace and supervise them. But it is doing everybody a real favor to ask first.