A teen’s lifeline: When should parents cut the cord to new gadgets?

October 29, 2006 at 3:49 am Leave a comment



By Courtenay Edelhart

A teen’s lifeline: When should parents cut the cord to new gadgets? 

Michael Harris was studying in an East Coast technology program for teenagers last summer when he called home to Indianapolis to plead for a laptop.His parents had previously forked over big bucks for such high-tech items as a cell phone and game consoles. This time, they balked.

“I made it a teaching moment,” said Michael’s mother, Laura Harris. “I told him, ‘You’ve been collecting birthday checks from your grandparents all these years. You could buy it yourself, but it will cost a lot of money. Do you really want to spend all of it on that?’ “

He bought the laptop, for about $2,000.

Like many other young people, Michael, 18, is enamored of gadgets. The Park Tudor School senior and his contemporaries are far more plugged into technology than previous generations. That’s left many of their often less tech-savvy parents befuddled—and broke.

“The only thing I would think would be comparable to when I was growing up would be maybe having the latest stereo equipment,” said Donna Segal, 45, of the Northwestside. “Now, they want so much more than that.”

About 25 percent of teenagers have a video game console in their bedroom, according to Harrison Group, a Waterbury, Conn., market research firm. Seven percent have a desktop personal computer in their room, and 18 percent own a laptop.

Another 58 percent own a cell phone, and most of those phones are capable of taking pictures and downloading games.

Segal’s 15-year-old daughter, Alexis Schneider, already has an iPod nano (they start at $149), and the teen’s father once confiscated her cell phone for a couple of months after she racked up excessive text-messaging charges. Now, Alexis is lobbying for a $100 Nintendo GameCube.

“I told her we’ll see,” Segal said. “She may have to wait for Hanukkah or a birthday for that one.”

It’s not just that teens want more gadgets. The gadgets they covet are a lot pricier than the tech toys of their parents’ youth, and they’re obsolete faster.

Gary Rudman, president of San Francisco-based GTR Consulting, calls today’s teenagers the “flux” generation because of the pace at which they adapt to new technologies.

“With the radio and the television, it was a couple generations before everyone had one in their home, much less in their room,” he said. “Today’s kids figure out how to use the new devices and fit them into their world right away, and before you know it, they’re onto something else.”

Replacing a gadget every time a new generation of the thing comes on the market is expensive. Some families can afford to upgrade every year. Others may struggle to buy even a product that is a couple of years old—an eternity in technology.

Either way, it’s important to teach youngsters the value of money, said Jennifer Mason, program administrator with Momentive Consumer Credit Counseling Service, a nonprofit organization that teaches people how to manage finances and get out of debt.

“Every family’s money situation is going to be unique,” Mason said. “Parents know what they can afford. They need to sit down with the child and tell them, ‘This is what we can do, and this is what we can’t, and this is why.’ “

Even if you can afford to buy a device outright, Mason thinks youngsters should contribute a little of their own money to big purchases to teach them appreciation for what they’re getting. She suggests involving them in product research and comparison shopping, and putting them on a budget that sets aside a little each month for spending, saving and sharing with charities or loved ones.

Matthew Dillon, a 17-year-old Hamilton Southeastern junior who lives in Fishers, owns three desktop computers, a laptop, an iPod, a cell phone and a surround-sound home theater system including a 50-inch flat-screen HDTV.

All together, he estimates he’s spent about $10,000 on electronics and computer equipment.

Matthew buys the vast majority of his gadgets himself. He works at a computer store, so he can use his employee discount to buy products at cost.

There is a line, though, and Matthew’s parents had a talk with him when he crossed it not long ago. That HDTV in the home theater system was a recent purchase, bought without his parents’ permission. Patrick Dillon and his ex-wife were stunned by the television’s size and price, $700.

“We’d prefer he not spend that much on a TV,” said Dillon, 43, of the Northeastside. “That’s money he could be saving for college or something.”

At least Dillon understands what his son is buying and what he’s doing with the stuff. That’s an advantage over the vast majority of parents, who are way behind the technological curve.

Laura Harris, 52, of the Northside, admits she doesn’t understand half of the products in her son’s technological arsenal, but his patient lessons are a bonding opportunity, so that doesn’t bother her.

Neither does the expense.

“Really, compared to what some kids get, it’s very minimal,” she said.

“I expect that to change, though, once he gets to college. He’s going to a technical school, so he’ll be exposed to a lot there.”



Entry filed under: Press.

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