Cell phones can be a great way to keep in touch with your offspring and know their location. Also, cells can be invaluable in case of an emergency. On the downside, though, a mobile carries a lot of responsibility. Not only do kids have to keep track of the phone itself, they have to be mindful of their allotted minutes while staying away from expensive extras such as text messaging and swapping pictures. And in all honesty, in a world where preteens have MP3 players, PlayStations, and laptops, do they really need mobiles, too? A phone called the Firefly
offers a solution for parents who want the convenience of a cell phone with a lot of control over how it's used. And at $100 with a prepay plan, it's also fairly priced.
It doesn't look all that cool, and it may in fact be too simple for some kids. If you're willing to let your children have a few more features, you can find a lot of other good basic phones for free these days if you're willing to commit to a one- or two-year contract. However, you may not get the coolest phones available, and you may get a little static from the kids over that. Computers
A laptop is a good school item for older kids, but youngsters are probably better off with a desktop PC. Apple Macintoshes
are very easy to use, but they can be pricey. Gateway's eMachines
generally give you good options at a decent price.
If you're buying a PC for a child's school use only, you don't need a lot of power. You'll need just enough to connect to the Internet and do word processing and maybe play some simple games. So don't worry about the processing power or having a huge hard drive. Do make sure it has a decent graphics card. Some educational software can be a bit graphics heavy--a low-end graphics card will go a long way toward improving performance. Nobody, especially a fidgety kid, likes to wait for an app to render the next scene.
Worry the most about the software. You'll want to make sure you have an antivirus program, a firewall, and antispyware software. Some Internet service providers provide this kind of software for free.
Lastly, you'll want to monitor your child's Web surfing. Several services, such as EarthLink's SurfMonkey, can block unsuitable Web sites, but as kids grow older, be aware that there's always a way around the blocks. Nothing can replace active supervision.