When it comes to Christmas, I’m a sucker for the “wow” gift (and if anyone has any ideas for my 8-year-old daughter, let me know). I want to surprise and delight as much as anyone (and as an interfaith family, we alternate doing the big gifts for Hanukkah or for Christmas – the timing means it’s Christmas this year). But there’s one big gift I won’t go for: the tablet computer in any form, and that includes the game-and-video playing Kindle Fire).

The children for whom I could conceivably buy an iPad or other tablet are 7, 8, and 9. (My 12-year-old bought his own this summer.) Any of them would be delighted to receive any tablet. I’m not opposed to either expensive gifts, if you can afford them, or the joys of gadgetry (my first iPad arrived the day they came out). Still, I can’t even imagine wrapping up one of these and tucking it under the tree. Why not?


Here it is, winter break, with plenty of that precious commodity: time. No school, few organized sports. This is the time for building elaborate Lego structures, concocting stories with a dollhouse, getting lost in a book or playing a family round of that board game you never manage to start before 8 p.m. the rest of the year. It’s a time for Wii marathons and Easy-Bake Ovens, not Candy Crush.


History suggests that my children have far, far greater respect for those things that they have longed for and bought themselves. My 12-year-old already has an iPad. He saved his allowance, and he did a fair amount of manual labor over the summer so that he would have enough to take a new iPad to school in the fall (the middle school requested that students bring one this year) rather than the old first-generation version I offered him. He misplaces it in the house occasionally, but in general it’s a treasured object, with a screen much cleaner than the one on mine.


Everything in the world (including their school) is pushing my children toward screens, and the screens themselves beckon continuously. We have desktop computers that they can use on weekends, and an old iPad that’s become the family gaming version. That’s enough.

Also, Angry Birds and Candy Crush aside, these tablets are not toys. They’re computers, and powerful communication devices. Texting, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter – there will be plenty of time for those things when my children are older. Possessing their own device would suggest to them that they’re ready to dive in. A shared family iPad does not invite a child to create that individual online world. (And, ours doesn’t have a camera.)


We have a weekends-only tech rule, except for math, coding and typing practice programs. My 12-year-old respects that with his iPad. His younger siblings don’t have even his (limited) self-control – to some extent, his ability to follow the rule relies on his not being as interested in iPad games as his siblings, and he has no interest in social media. More opportunity is not a good idea.


Even many teenagers would rather read a physical book than one on a device – more immersion, more tactile pleasure, less temptation for our brains’ grabby instant reward centers. Looking for a good book? “The Complete Calvin and Hobbes” is expensive, but it is hands-down the best gift I have ever given. A few years later, and the books are never all in the box, and every child pores over every page.


Sorry, kids. Even if Mommy approved, Santa still wouldn’t shop at Best Buy.

LAST YEAR, I sent myself an iCal reminder on Dec. 1 that read “too much stuff last year.” The year before’s Christmas morning had lasted well into the afternoon, and a few days later, new toys that would have been greeted with delight on any other day sat untouched by the recipients. It was a festival of materialism that no one over the age of 10 in my family had any desire to repeat.

On New Parent, Old Parent, my colleague Michael Winerip is looking for the strategies readers use to avoid the temptation of holiday gift excess – temptations that aren’t limited to the wealthy. Consumer culture has truly changed in the last few decades. The price of manufactured goods has dropped, and toys in particular are significantly less expensive than they were 30 years ago when prices are adjusted for inflation. There are families who cannot afford gifts, but for those who can, it’s easy to buy too much – and too many plastic toys from the discount aisle are just as unappreciated, and just as problematic, as too many Legos or too many pricey video games.

Mike shares his family’s efforts to stretch out the pleasures of Christmas morning without stretching either its budget or its available storage: wrap every small gift, even batteries, separately and talk about each and every one. (The opening of batteries, he says, led to “lots of guessing” about what might come later.) I’m focusing on making sure each child’s gift gives him or her something to do on Christmas afternoon or over Christmas break – one thing to do alone, one thing to do with an adult or siblings, so that the excitement doesn’t end with the opening of the final gift. And I’m keeping in mind that in our family, siblings like to help choose gifts for one another. A single gift from grandparents and a single gift from parents is enough when you’re one of four. In fact, it’s too much, so I encourage siblings to go in together on gifts (which doesn’t always work).

Contact KJ Dell-Antonia at:

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