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Giving the Gift of Technology for the Holidays

December 21, 2018
By Simon Kanter
Written by Simon Kanter, the Director of Technology at The Siena School
If you're looking for a tech gift for your child this year, but don't know what to give, consider gifting a Chromebook! Less expensive than a phone or tablet, but just as feature-rich, a Chromebook is a versatile gift that opens up a host of creative possibilities for kids.
Curious about what kind of Chromebook to buy? Virtually every major computer manufacturer makes a model now, and generally speaking they are perfectly interchangeable. Think about these factors before buying:
  • Form Factor (laptop size): The two most common sizes are 11" and 13". The smaller is recommended for students up through 8th grade, while high school students could probably use the screen size upgrade to 13". Smaller units tend to have better battery life. 
  • Touchscreen or regular screen: About half of all Chromebook models are now touch-capable, and some of them even have a 270- or 360-degree swivel that can turn them into a stand-up or tablet mode.
  • Android app compatibility: The models listed as "Stable Channel" in this link can also run Android apps, like the ones on Android smartphones, in addition to Chrome Extensions!
The holidays provide a unique opportunity for many meaningful activities -- eating meals together, decorating our homes, seeing relatives from out of town -- but this year, I'd like to ask you to add another to your list: If you are planning to give your child a computer, smartphone, or tablet this holiday season, consider sitting down with them to talk about how to have a healthy relationship with their new smart device.
Having a conversation with your child around the time they receive a tech gift is your chance to: set boundaries about when and where device use is appropriate; ask what kinds of apps they plan to use, and lay out what you are comfortable with them using; come up with a family contract with sensible rules that you all can follow, like "no phones at the dinner table." The real value, beyond just setting rules, lies in maintaining an open line of communication about device use and the way it affects us all. Modeling good device use is one part of this. Being honest about the effects that connected technology has on your life, and being OK with the fact that your child's experience might not line up with yours, is another.
Siena’s go-to reference for effective and empathetic communication about developmental tech issues is Dr. Devorah Heitner. Her blog is a treasure trove of advice in this area, and she even wrote an article on this exact topic for PBS.
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