Yesterday we posted a piece on being a good tech parent — a guide to raising more technologically responsible kids. Parents have a ton of decisions to make when it comes to technology in their family’s lives, and a big one is when to give a kid her first laptop. Many parents opt to keep kids on the family computer for better monitoring. But giving children computers of their own and teaching them how to use and take care of them has many benefits. Don’t forget, one of the first netbooks, the OLPC XO, was made by a company attempting to make low-cost computers for kids that would empower them and enrich their lives.
Netbooks make a good first computer for kids because they’re small and inexpensive. Some are even made for pre-teen and educational markets. Which should you choose? That depends on the age of the kid or teen in question, your level of tech savvy, and how much you want to monitor.
Beth Blecherman of TechMamas says that the earliest you want to give children their own laptops is between 8 and 10 years old, depending on their maturity level. There have been several netbooks designed to appeal to kids this age that tend to have three major features in common: ruggedized or damage-proof hardware, kid-friendly software and/or operating system, and parental controls. These are best for kids up to 12 who are just learning about computers and are more likely to accidentally drop or spill things on them. Parents should always teach kids how to properly care for a laptop, but everyone has accidents! Here are some good choices:
Intel designed their Classmate PCs for the education market with an eye toward kids in emerging markets. Different distributors rebrand the netbooks in different regions — in the US you’re most likely to find CTL 2go Classmates. We’ve reviewed the 10-inch E10 and the 9-inch Convertible models and found them to be good netbooks, if not quite as attractive as the ones below. The rugged exterior and water-resistant keyboard and trackpad are a big plus. UPDATE: The E10 and Convertible both come with Intel’s parental control and educational software (which you can learn more about here). $449 for the E10 and $499 for the Convertible.
This netbook is covered in slime, which should please your kid if she’s a Nick fan or just really digs slime. Aside from this design, parents can also choose a SpongeBob or iCarly theme in Dell’s Design Studio. Though it doesn’t have a spill-proof keyboard, the Mini 10v does come with parental controls (provided by McAfee Family Security) and a kid-friendly interface with games and educational software. Starts at $329 at Dell Home.
Netpals come in two colors: Princess Pink and Magical Blue. Leaving aside the troublesome gendering going on with these designs, the Netpal has many features both parents and kids will love. The 9-inch netbooks come with either a 160GB hard drive or a 16GB solid state drive (which can better withstand drops) plus reinforced hardware and a spill-resistant keyboard. Looking quite a bit like an Eee PC 901, the smallish keyboard on the Netpal should suit tiny hands just fine. ASUS specifically notes that it’s easy to set up, which should help parents who aren’t very tech-savvy. Parental controls and a fun GUI made just for kids have you covered on the software side, too. We’re particularly fond of the webcam lens in the shape of Mickey Mouse. MSRP is $349, but it’s selling for less in several online stores.