Yesterday we posted a piece on being a good tech parent -- a guide to raising more technologically responsible kids. Parents have a ton of decisions to make when it comes to technology in their family's lives, and a big one is when to give a kid her first laptop. Many parents opt to keep kids on the family computer for better monitoring. But giving children computers of their own and teaching them how to use and take care of them has many benefits. Don't forget, one of the first netbooks, the OLPC XO, was made by a company attempting to make low-cost computers for kids that would empower them and enrich their lives.
Netbooks make a good first computer for kids because they're small and inexpensive. Some are even made for pre-teen and educational markets. Which should you choose? That depends on the age of the kid or teen in question, your level of tech savvy, and how much you want to monitor.
Netbooks Made For Kids
Beth Blecherman of TechMamas says that the earliest you want to give children their own laptops is between 8 and 10 years old, depending on their maturity level. There have been several netbooks designed to appeal to kids this age that tend to have three major features in common: ruggedized or damage-proof hardware, kid-friendly software and/or operating system, and parental controls. These are best for kids up to 12 who are just learning about computers and are more likely to accidentally drop or spill things on them. Parents should always teach kids how to properly care for a laptop, but everyone has accidents! Here are some good choices:
Dell Inspiron Mini 10v Nickelodeon Edition (opens in new tab)(opens in new tab)
Disney Netpal by ASUS (opens in new tab)(opens in new tab)
Netbooks for Older Kids And Teens
We haven't run across any Twilight-themed netbooks so far, nor do we see much netbook marketing aimed specifically at tweens and teens. Perhaps companies figure by the time they outgrow something like the Netpal kids want the same computers adults do. Buying a "regular" netbook doesn't mean you'll have to completely give up damage protection or parental monitoring.
Dell Vostro A90 (opens in new tab)
Dell is currently selling this system for just $184. Not many netbooks dip below the $200 mark, so this is a great deal for parents on a tight budget. For that price there are tradeoffs -- instead of Windows the A90 comes with Ubuntu Linux pre-loaded. Though adults often have a hard time dealing with Linux, kids who are learning and exploring may enjoy taking Ubuntu for a spin. They'll still be able to create Word documents, edit photos, and access the Internet with this OS. Another aspect that makes this more kid-friendly is the drive: it's solid state instead of a traditional spinning drive. That means no moving parts and less chance that a drop or bump will damage it. If you think 8GB won't be enough, you can upgrade to a 16GB drive for $50 more.
Your kid may be a bit older, but perhaps you'd still like to put restrictions on his computer use and web surfing. As we mentioned in the tech parenting piece, balancing trust with the need to keep your child safe isn't easy and you'll have to gauge how much to go in either direction based on your own comfort levels and your child's maturity. Here are a couple of tools you can load on netbooks that don't come with parental control or monitoring built-in.
This program offers multiple levels of control over your child's computer: Web site blocking, program controls, time limits, and usage logging/alerts. Plus you can install it on up to 3 computers if you've got more than one child or want to protect the family computer as well as their netbook. $49.95/year.
Net Nanny (opens in new tab)
Despite the name, Net Nanny can be useful for keeping an eye on older kids. There's a wealth of blocking options and alerts, all of which you can control and adjust remotely for those times when your kid is online but not with you. There are even alerts for potential cyber bullies. $39.99/year for one computer, $59.99 for up to 3.
No matter which netbook and level of protection and monitoring you choose, take time to make sure your child understands how to take care for her new computer and how to stay safe with it. Fostering the right attitude toward technology early will help kids grow into responsible and savvy computer using young adults.