Jentrie Hales, community advocate, @techhealthyfamily

It’s another early morning and your 5-year-old wakes you up from a dead sleep, ready to rock n’ roll for the day. You whisper to just grab the iPad to watch a show while you catch another half hour of sacred sleep. Sound familiar at all?

I think that most of us have been there in some capacity where sometimes the screen babysitter saves the day. Whether that be in a crowded restaurant with hangry bellies or a video or two while completing a chore, sometimes screens are life savers.

Sure, there is little harm in occasionally using a device to distract or entertain a child for a moment or two, but if you are like me, you are wary of the danger and bad habits that come with using screens. You probably would like it if they could access a show without being flashed disturbing ads, or play a game without having access to inappropriate content with the wrong swipe of a button.

Sadly, that’s a tall order these days. With the holiday season before us, please consider pausing before you go straight to technology. Join me on a mission to be intentional about what technology we welcome into our homes. Lean into the slow pace of alternative forms of technology. The ones that have more specific purposes and allow a safer environment for our kids to first navigate technology.

Here is a list of alternative technology products that might work better for your family this gifting season:

FOR ENTERTAINMENT

A variety of companies are coming out with these “boxes” where characters are chosen and connected and stories associated with the character are played audibly. There are many pros to using something like this.

It is a great tool to use for winding down for bed, listening while working on a project, or having down time. They are pretty simple to operate and you can purchase characters that are interesting to your child (including many educational options). I also like this device as it stimulates the imagination without the risk of inappropriate or unplanned content.

I am familiar with the Toniebox, but there are many companies that have come out with similar designs.

FOR COMMUNICATION

If you have a child you want to stay in touch with during the day but don’t want them to have access to all the junk that comes with a smartphone, chances are you have heard of different versions of child-friendly watches. They are wonderful tools that limit who a child can contact and have built-in GPS tracking. There are many pros to these introductory pieces of technology, and the Gabb watch does it right.

FOR LEARNING

Many companies will prey on parents’ desire to produce educated kids by labeling their products as “educational.” Be aware of this messaging, but there are some good options. I like the idea of substituting some hands-on learning with devices like this Inno Pad that helps children memorize new concepts like letters, numbers, colors, and shapes or interactive maps that allow children to dive deep into geography.

So, in honor of this holiday season, before you go straight to buying a sparkly new iPad or smartphone for your child, take a moment to consider:

  • What am I hoping to accomplish with this device in my child’s life?
  • What are the risks associated with this device?
  • Do the risks outweigh the good?
  • Is there something simpler that would work safer and healthier for my child?

Jentrie Hales is a community advocate with five years’ experience empowering parents and children in different settings. She has been invited into classrooms, youth groups, and parent groups throughout Cache Valley to speak about healthy relationships with tech and professionally mentor families that feel overwhelmed with managing the tech in their home. Follow her on Instagram @techhealthyfam or email her at techheatlhyfam@gmail.com