Should Kids Get iPhones for Christmas?

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Hacking the iPhone 5c probably cost the FBI more than $1 million.
Hacking the iPhone 5c probably cost the FBI more than $1 million.
Photo: Apple

Don’t look now, but kids want iPhones for Christmas. Well, a third of them do, anyway.

A survey of 12- to 17-year-olds conducted by Ebates found that an iPhone tops the wishlist. One third — specifically 32% — of those surveyed want an iPhone. (Some 12% want a Samsung Galaxy phone.)

Ho, ho, hold on a second. Is this a good idea? Should children “own” wireless gadgets?

If not, why not? And if so, which one?

Well, I’m going to tell you.

The Ebates survey didn’t spin out those who want their first iPhone vs those who want a newer iPhone.

Because the fact is, by the time kids hit 12 these days, many are already using iPhones.

A new report from Common Sense Media found that about 38 percent of children or babies under the age of 2 years old use tablets or smartphones, although presumably don’t necessarily “own” them.

It’s likely that the majority of these devices are iPhones and iPads, if YouTube videos are any indication.

The most amazing aspect of this number is that the same survey conducted two years ago found only 10 percent, so the number of 2-year-olds and under using touch devices has increased by 4x in two years. Wow.

More tellingly, the number of 2-year-olds and younger using touch phones or tablets every day has more than doubled in the past two years, from 8% to 17%.

Which raises an obvious question: How young is too young for children to be using or owning iPhones, iPads and other touch-screen devices?

It’s clear that intuitive multi-touch user interfaces like iOS make it easy for even very young children to use them. But should they?

That’s something each parent has to decide. But my own belief (having raised two kids) I that whatever parents decide, they should follow this advice:

* Don’t let “virtual” play replace actual play with real people and real objects, especially outdoor play.

* Don’t maintain the delusion that having your kid download games and play them on an iPhone makes them “computer savvy.” Being a user of a post-PC device teaches you exactly nothing about computers or technology.

* Don’t let kids use them within one hour of going to bed, as the light in their eyes resets their biological clocks and prevents them from sleeping well.

* Don’t let kids and teens sleep with their phones on. A pandemic of “junk sleep” is wrecking the health, not to mention grades, of kids these days.

* Don’t minimize the risk of making your child a target of mugging or theft by sending them out the door with an expensive and desirable consumer electronics product. Apple is the leading brand for thieves everywhere.

Kids say they want iPhones. Apple CEO Tim Cook said in the recent earnings call that “It’s going to be an iPad Christmas.”

While kids have been given Apple devices for years as holiday gifts, the choice is harder this year than ever before.

The first decision is: iPod Touch, iPhone or iPad?

To me, this is pretty close to a no-brainer. Assuming the kid has no other mobile device, an iPhone is the best way to go. It’s just like the iPod Touch (a device that used to be a favorite gift for a kid), but can be activated now or later as a phone. Plus, Apple hasn’t announced a recent iPod Touch, and it’s possible that this device category may be phased out altogether.

Some parents assume that an iPad would be better because kids can do homework on it, and read books and so on. But most kids will do just fine with an iPhone — It’s mainly people over 40 who “need” a tablet for real reading.

The downsides of an iPad for kids are: 1) it requires a backpack, so it won’t be carried around other than to and from school, for the most part; 2) it can’t be used as a phone, so you won’t be able to reliably track your kid or call them with it; and 3) it’s both more visible and more likely to be kept separately from your kid, and therefore more likely to be stolen.

In general, I would recommend an iPhone. But which iPhone?

If I were to buy an iPhone for myself, I would buy the iPhone 5S. However, for a teenager or child, I think the iPhone 5C is better, and here’s why.

Functionally, the iPhone 5C is close to the 5S. However, it’s less likely to be stolen for two reasons.

First, the 5C is less “prestigious” than a 5S. It’s simply less desirable to crooks (or schoolyard juvenile delinquents) and less resellable (because people generally prefer the 5S).

Second, the color choice actually decreases the chances that it will be stolen. Let’s say you give your daughter a pink iPhone 5C. The desirability of that phone is gone for everyone (crooks, buyers of stolen phones) who doesn’t want a pink phone.

This is also true of 5C iPhones with colors other than pink. The color narrows its desirability a little.

I think it’s also a great idea for families to institute hand-me-down policies for phones (this advice obviously contradicts the 5C advice, but it’s an alternative approach). Whichever parent is the biggest gadget freak gets the latest iPhone. That parent’s old iPhone goes to the other parent. That parent’s old phone goes to the oldest kid, and so on.

So the “gift” isn’t just an iPhone now, but the second or third newest iPhone from now on.

I’ve seen this work great in several families.

Whichever device you choose to give, and whatever approach you take, you can be sure of one thing: Apple gadgets make great gifts.