Lately, our home has come to look like an Apple (AAPL) store. There are four iPods, two MacBooks, a MacBook Air, an older iMac, a set-top box -- and as of this week, two iPads.
Our 11-year-old son owns a fair amount of the geekery, including one of the new iPads. He is, in a word, spoiled. Except that he really isn't.
Both the Air (his computer) and the iPad 2 he just got were purchased with money he earned performing chores, mowing lawns, and selling old gear. But you know what? Even if he hadn't earned all of this tech, I'd still be OK getting him a tablet for Christmas.
I know, I know. How could we possibly justify such a purchase for an 11-year-old? Three ways:
1. It's better and more interactive than traditional TV.
2. It encourages reading.
3. It's a teaching tool in the hands of the tech-savvy educators at his school.
There's also a fourth benefit. While there's no going back on putting a TV in a child's room, a portable iPad can be confiscated, an iTunes account locked, and video privileges withdrawn. Tablets and computers can also be outfitted with parental controls for displaying and downloading only age-appropriate content. Personalized systems can be controlled in ways that community options (like the living room TV set) can't be.
The Built-In Money Lesson
Owning a sensitive piece of electronics demands care. Fail to provide and costs rise quickly -- costs the owner must bear. Imagine your 11-year-old saving up money for a repair. Or how about saving to get new apps, books, or movies?
Best Buy (BBY) bought the Geek Squad repair business because it's profitable. Amazon.com (AMZN) and Netflix (NFLX) charge for digital content. The experience of owning advanced equipment like a tablet can't be easily disconnected from proper money management, unless you're the sort of parent who shields children from financial decisions. (Please don't.)
Even extreme circumstances can carry lessons. For example, how would you react when a favored item is lost or stolen? Would you replace it? We didn't when our-then younger son lost an iPod Mini he got one birthday. Instead, we made him wait years to get a new iPod Touch. Only later, after learning the value of caring for gadgetry, did he decide to save up for the Air and iPad. Our out-of-pocket costs for his toys have been minimal, as it should be.
So, yes, I would buy my 11-year-old an iPad for Christmas because the benefits outweigh the drawbacks. Namely, the experience of using advanced gear for learning, of caring for it, and of saving for add-ons and software. Kids have to learn responsibility sometime -- it may as well be with a device I can control.
Would you get your tween a tablet? How are you teaching them financial responsibility? Please let us know using the comments box below.
Motley Fool contributor Tim Beyers owned shares of Apple and Netflix at the time of publication. Check out Tim's portfolio holdings and other columns. The Motley Fool owns shares of Best Buy and Apple. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Amazon.com, Apple, and Netflix, as well as creating a bull call spread position in Apple and writing covered calls on Best Buy.