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"But everyone else has one!"

How to tell when your kids are ready for their first camera, iPod®, and more

Deciding when your child is ready for his first camera or her first iPod isn't quite like following the American Pediatric Association's guidelines on when to introduce strawberries or peanuts. Instead, parents have to do what they do each and every day — use their best judgment and try to do the right thing.

However, it does help to get input from other parents, as well as experts in other areas. So we've polled Crutchfield's product experts, as well as Crutchfield parents, and put together the following tips to help you introduce these gizmos sensibly and safely when your kids are ready for them.

nikon coolpix "When my first-grader wanted a camera, I thought about her level of responsibility, whether she tends to drop or lose things, and her interest in picture-taking."

A first camera

This is a fun one for kids; they love the thrill of instant gratification they get from taking a picture and immediately checking out the results. Even better, today's digital cameras are very affordable indeed — you can find impressive shooting power for $150 and less. Last but not least, cameras are a great size for small hands and little fingers.

Most folks we asked reported that they began sharing their camera with their kids starting around age five or six. Some gave their child a hand-me-down — either a point-and-shoot camera that they were replacing with a newer model, or a camera bought used from a friend or neighbor. And several of them bought a new camera and made it the main gift at a birthday or holiday.

For example, when my first-grader wanted a camera, I thought about her level of responsibility, whether she tends to drop or lose things, and her interest in picture-taking. I also made sure she knew some ground rules about not intruding on others' privacy and not bragging to friends. I ended up choosing a lightweight, affordable, but nice-quality point-and-shoot in a fun color (red). Mom handles the transfer to the computer and printing.

Overall, here are our tips for choosing a camera for a kid: we like models with image stabilization, so kids have an easier time keeping their shots steady and blur-free. If the model you choose comes with a rechargeable battery, consider buying an extra one that you can keep charged and ready-to-go. And as with all cameras, buy a memory card — the camera's included memory is unlikely to hold more than a few photos.

First camera summary:

  • Typical age: Around age 6 and up
  • You know they're ready if: They're polite, responsible, and have an interest in photography
  • Features to look for: Affordable price, image stabilization, and fun color

iPod shuffle
"My youngest daughter got an iPod shuffle at eight. She had a real interest in music, and I made sure she wouldn't play it too loud and wouldn't overuse it or use it inappropriately."

A first MP3 player

With so many adults carrying their MP3 players everywhere, it should be no surprise that kids are asking for them too. Most folks we asked said they'd felt their kids were ready by the time they were eight to ten, although some of that decision depended on the age of the child and the type of player; most parents weren't handing over an iPod® touch to their fifth-graders.

What else did parents look for in their kids before making the decision? A love of music and readiness to use the player responsibly topped the list. Michael Sokolowski told us, "My youngest daughter got an iPod shuffle at eight. She had a real interest in music, and I made sure she wouldn't play it too loud and wouldn't overuse it or use it inappropriately."

Crutchfield audio veteran Dave Bar added the following: "You can use the parental volume lock-out feature for younger kids to prevent hearing loss. I'd also invest in some rugged aftermarket head/earphones; the stock iPod earbuds are worthless and weak, and won't make it to your kid's next birthday (or even next week if you give them to my son)."

Do make sure you've talked to your kids about this purchase before you buy — they may have a very specific idea which player they want, in which finish, and you don't want the "big gift" to be a flop because you picked the wrong color.

One last reminder we'd offer is to invest in a protective case; the question is not "when will the player get dropped"but "how often?"A protective case can lengthen lifespan considerably, and there are tons of fun cases in cool colors.

First MP3 player summary:

  • Typical age: Around age 8 and up
  • You know they're ready if: They're responsible and love music
  • Features to look for: Durability, the right color, and upgraded headphones

A first TV

The parents we spoke to were unanimous about one thing: there was no point (before college) at which they felt it was a good time to give a child a TV.

Robert, dad to two boys, told us, "I subscribe to the crazy theory that there's no reason for kids to have a TV in their room. Sure, it would be a great luxury, but we already have two TVs in the house, and that's enough for us."

Turns out his instincts are backed up by a lot of research: An October 2007 report in Pediatrics found an association between having a TV in a child's bedroom and sleep problems. In addition, a 2005 study in The Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine indicated that children with TVs in their bedrooms often had lower grades. More generally, many studies suggest that kids perform better in school and stay healthier overall when the content they are watching is monitored and the hours of viewing are carefully limited.

So what to do when no one in the family can agree on what to unwind with? Our suggestion is to add a TV, not to a child's bedroom, but to the parents' bedroom. That gives parents a place to escape and settle down with their favorite show, while letting the kids watch their pick in a common area where viewing may be monitored. It's a nice way to offer a little more autonomy to growing kids (we're thinking pre-teens and teens) without letting a TV invade their personal space.

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