Looking back on my experiences with computers, I remember the first one we got in our home. It was an Apple IIe computer, complete with floppy disk drive, massive monitor and a dot matrix printer. In 1986 I thought we were at the pinnacle of technological evolution as finally, we had a computer in the home. That computer would prove to be useful for not only my mother, but for me as a student for writing papers and such. The thing is, there was only one choice of computer, a desktop.
Nowadays, the public, and even business, is swamped with choices of computers, and this extends all the way down to folks with kids. There are desktops, laptops, tablets, and yes, smartphones are used oftentimes as a computer because in fact, that is what they are. However, when it comes to your children which one is right for your little ones? We will explore those options.
Desktops have been the mainstay of the computer industry for decades and as mentioned earlier, they were the only thing going. So why would you as a parent consider a desktop for your kids? One reason is a desktop provides typically a centralized point for your kids to use the computer. Like with any other computer, you can setup different user accounts so that each child has their own customized settings like favorite websites, programs, etc. Also, desktops tend to have a longer life usage wise and are more easily upgradable from a memory and hard drive point of view. Recommendation is to put this in a common area of your house for mom and dad to easily monitor. A desktop is appropriate for any age child, but specifically here, referring to any child ages 4-15 years of age.
The next category is a laptop. Laptops are just as powerful as desktops, and they are portable. I would say teens from ages 15-18 are a good category for this, as likely, they may already use one for school. Many schools now are mandating that all kids have access to one, and usually do so at a discounted rate so this is definitely something to check in with your local school district. A laptop’s portability comes in handy when going back and forth to school, the library, or study groups. Laptops also take up very little space compared to desktops, and some of them are priced almost the same price in some cases as a desktop computer.
A consideration with laptops and children in this age range should be net safety. Specifically, having such a portable device means that they can take it anywhere at any time. You will definitely want to lay down some clear ground rules such as not using one behind closed doors, using chat rooms, email, and the like. Parents know their kids best, but when it comes to teenage children and access to laptops, my best advice is to heavily restrict what they can and cannot do with that machine via their user account permissions. That means, create a user account that has only “Guest” or “Standard User” permissions.
Finally we enter the realm of smartphones and tablets. Since this is focusing more on productivity, I will only say that with smartphones, such as an iPhone, are primarily communication devices. Tablets are designed more for portable productivity. A tablet, like a laptop, is highly portable. These also are being used in schools around the country, and like laptops, many schools are now issuing them to students. Tablets are becoming more and more useful, in terms, of productivity, as there are many apps that you can download and use not only for tablets, but that you can also install on your main computer back home and synch files, notes, and the like.
Programs like Evernote, are very handy for note taking, so a student could take all their notes on their iPad and then arrive at home to find them on the computer they primarily use. Emailing assignments, and or communicating with their instructors is a lot easier on a tablet, versus hauling out a laptop and booting it up to send a quick email. Tablets are very small compared to desktops and laptops, but really they should just be considered as a supplemental tool to their main computer.
Working on a tablet primarily is not going to have the same experience working with say, a Word document, as it would on a conventional computer. They are pricey though, with Apple products being in the $300-$400 range and Android being anywhere from $99-$300 depending on the model. Parents looking at pricing and usefulness may soon realize that it is better to pay this price for an actual desktop or laptop, and hold off on a tablet for later.
There are several options available for your children when it comes to computers. Most homes today have at least 1 computer in them, and yes, even your young children will benefit greatly by getting them started now using one. As for my own opinion on this subject, I would say that unless the school mandated a laptop, I would stick with a desktop computer until they graduate high school, simply due to their own online safety. There are also many tools you can use with computers for kids for monitoring their safety, but we will save that for a future discussion.
Hunter Bonner is an Information Technologist. He can be reached via his blog techedgeblog.wordpress.com and on Twitter @HunterBonner