How Tech-Savvy Parents Are Splurging on Themselves

A new survey shows that parents are rewarding themselves with new gadgets—and letting their kids make do with their used, outdated gizmos. Dan Lyons on the perils of digital hand-me-downs.

11.29.11 1:24 PM ET

How’s this for holiday spirit? This year a lot of parents intend to splurge on the latest and greatest new tech gadgets for themselves. But as for the kids? They’ll get the old stuff that their parents don’t want anymore, according to a survey done by PBS Kids.

“We’re now in the second generation of a lot of these devices, so now parents are in the position to hand things down,” says Lesli Rotenberg, senior vice president of children’s media at PBS. “But the economy factors in, too. People are thinking hard about anything they buy over the holidays.”

Overall, PBS found that parents this year are slightly less likely to buy new tech toys for their kids than they were last year. Last year, 49 percent said they planned to buy new tech gadgets for their kids. This year the number dropped to 44 percent. At the same time, however, 76 percent of the parents surveyed said they do intend to buy new tech gadgets for themselves this year.

These results come from an online survey of 1,000 people with kids aged 2 to 10. Gadgets include things like computers, videogame consoles, smartphones, tablets, and MP3 players.

Chart showing results of 2011 PBS Holiday Buying Intention Survey


Rotenberg says the regifting of old tech products is a somewhat new phenomenon, and one that raises some important issues. PBS recommends that parents sweep their old devices clean, removing all their browser cookies and applications. They should also secure the device to block content that kids shouldn’t see, and set limits on how much time kids can spend with their precious little eyes glued to those tiny glowing screens.

It’s a good idea to load up the device with apps that you’ve checked out. But finding the right content can be a challenge, because there are so many apps out there. The iTunes store now has more than 700 apps for kids, and “one complaint we hear a lot is, `how do I find the right ones for my child?’” Rotenberg says. Talking to other parents and checking out ratings and reviews is a good way to start, she says.

Apps to avoid are the ones that try to make money off your kids by selling them virtual goods inside a game or popping up a link to another app that costs money. “The risk is that your kids might be ordering stuff and you don’t know it, or they will be constantly demanding that you spend money on something,” Rotenberg says.

As for the scolds and Luddites who think kids shouldn’t be using tech toys in the first place, the folks at PBS beg to differ. “We think it’s not about the device itself—it’s about how you are using it. Do you think TV is good for kids? TV itself is neither good nor bad. It can be both. It depends what’s on it,” Rotenberg says.

She says devices like tablets are very intuitive for young kids who can’t operate a mouse. “It’s all about how you harness the potential of the device. Some content has educational value. Some is a complete waste of time.”

For the record, PBS Kids makes 14 applications for Apple devices, and one app for Google’s Android platform.