Your Christmas list e-list
Author: Richard Singleton

Just recently a sweet little neighbor boy showed up on our doorstep wanting to play “cops and robbers” with my son. His glowing 4 four-year-old eyes said it all – he was packing heat and desperately wanted to get the bad guys, but needed a Starsky to add to his Hutch.

My nostalgia instantly kicked-in. I thought about my old toy guns. Many of you likely have made the choice not to allow your kiddos to play with toy guns. I respect that and don’t have an axe to grind on the issue. But, it does provide a perfect intro into a discussion on electronic Christmas goodies.

I still remember the first time my Christmas stash went from hum-drum to high-tech. I don’t remember the year, but I certainly remember the present – it was Tin Can Alley – an electronic shooting game, clandestinely tucked under the Christmas tree by my sweet grandmother.

Can you imagine my wide-eyed wonderment? I could shoot a gun. I could shoot a gun in the house. I could shoot a gun in the house at tin cans. I could shoot a gun in the house at tin cans with an electronic beam of light. It was heaven. Just like Chuck Conners on the Tin Can Alley TV commercials, I could be my own visionary version of the Rifleman. It was bliss.

My how times have changed! Electronic gadgets aren’t what they used to be. We’ve outgrown ray guns and Easy Bake Ovens. We’re firmly ensconced in the era of iPhones, iPads and Android devices. And, unlike my Tin Can Alley, cell phones, tablets and smartphones don’t come with a nifty label that lets us know what age group deserves to be lavished with such luxuries.

Consequently, we have to rely on the age-old skill of parenting to shine a light on the path that we should take. According to a recent survey done by, us parents and our teens have quite a wide range of ideas on when they should gain their own personal access to the expansive, connected world. And, much of that diverse range depends a lot on what device it is that we are talking about – basic cell phone, smartphone or tablet.

Here’s the skinny on the survey. First, and you may be shocked to find this out, most teens — 64 percent of them — believed that other teens should wait until age 16 to get their first tablet or smartphone. But be careful Santa, your teen is part of a group of 92 percent who believe that they should have basic cell phone privileges right away. And, you thought shimmying down chimneys and trying to eat all those cookies was hard work!
Interestingly, according to the survey, if you’re a single parent, you’re probably more likely to slip that cell phone under the tree sooner than if you’re married. Only 17 percent of single parents believe a child should wait until 16 for a phone, but 33 percent of married parents believe a child should be 16 before they start toting mobile phones. If you’re married, may I suggest that you not judge single parents too quickly or too harshly.

The single parents among us have extremely challenging schedules and likely their willingness to give their children cell phones earlier than married parents is not because they have less boundaries; it’s probably more about necessity than passivity. Because of the context of their parental situation, many single parents need to have more flexible communication options.

Being a single parent is difficult work – very difficult work – and being able to stay in better communication with their children is often an integral must, even if it means giving them phones at a younger age.

Going farther, the survey reveals that most of us, regardless of age, marital status or gender, think that tablets are for older teens and most of us are pretty flexible with cell phones for younger teens. But, as you know, Santa is going out of the basic cell phone business and is turning most of his elves’ attention towards building and marketing smartphones. What’s the wisdom on smartphones from the survey?

Well, it’s not entirely clear at first glance, but there is a very interesting statistic that gives pause to those of us who are putting the power of a computer into the pocket of our 13-year-olds. Published alongside the survey results at is a study that suggests that since 2007, face-time between kids and parents has plummeted 30 percent. asks if this might correspond to the fact that Facebook has exponentially soared from 50 million users in 2007 to 500 million users in 2010 (nearing the end of 2011, there are almost 1 billion users). I would add that smartphone use has also been dramatically increasing during this time and that teens are a growing contingent of this new growth – even though the survey suggests overwhelmingly that we believe young teens should have to wait for a smartphone.

It’s hard to draw conclusions from this type of data, but good parents always keep their fingers on the pulse of what is occurring in the lives of their kids. I think we can safely say this much: distractions to family time are dramatically rising. Texting, Facebook, smartphone apps and tablets full of games, movies and seemingly interstellar connectivity leave less and less time for good old face-to-face interaction.

So what’s the answer? Do we deny reality and dole out lumps of coal for the holidays? Of course not. We live in an electronic age; We dare not look the other way. It seems clear that at present, most of us – teens and adults alike – want to reserve the elite high-tech communication devices for older teens. But, basic cell phones (and the definition is changing all the time) will likely increasingly show up as birthday, holiday and Christmas gifts for a wider and wider range of kids, even some as young as elementary school.
The issue for parents, then, becomes not “if” but “how” to give these gifts to our kids. As we’ve urged many times in this column, it really is a matter of setting clear, loving limits. So, ensure that there is accountability and then enjoy the benefits that come with giving and receiving cool gifts! Merry Christmas!

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