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Buying Your Child a Laptop
Many parents have considered buying a laptop for their child. Giving a child their own laptop can help them learn how to use technology, a skill that is very useful in any future white-color career. Laptops can also be used for educational and entertainment purposes.
However, buying laptop computers for children raises some questions. What if the child breaks it? What kind of laptop does the child need? How can I monitor my child's use of the laptop? Let's address these concerns one by one.
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Issue 1: Safety and Security
The number one worry on the minds of parents who own computers is the possibility of their child coming across unsavory characters or websites. The Internet's great wealth of knowledge includes information about many things a parent may not want a child to see. Internet predators are also a concern.
Buying a laptop for a child seems like a risk, but it can actually be a safety measure. Why? Because a laptop that is only used by your child becomes a contained environment. You can load security software onto the laptop and use very restrictive settings without worrying about the software interfering with others.
There are numerous software products available that are made specifically to protect minors. The most popular of these is Net Nanny, but many other options exist. Giving a child a laptop protected with child safety software creates a very safe environment.
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Issue 2: Laptop Performance
Deciding what kind of laptop you should purchase for your child can be difficult. Simply asking your child isn't exactly the best idea - after all, they're unlikely to understand the nuances of computer technology. You need to provide guidance by picking a laptop that will serve them well and preferably last a few years.
Netbooks are one option. These low-performance laptops are light and small, making them easier for a child to haul around. The inexpensive price of netbooks is also an advantage. However, netbooks are very bad at entertainment. Netbooks can't play many games and sometimes struggle with video. If you're buying the laptop at least partially as an entertainment device you'll want to look elsewhere.
The other option is a multimedia laptop. These laptops, which usually have 15.6" displays, are not light or small. Young children will have trouble handling them. However, multimedia laptops can handle any sort of task that a child is likely to throw at them. They're also likely to last longer before their performance is so outdated that a replacement must be purchased. Multimedia laptops are much more expensive, however. A low-end multimedia laptop will cost around $500 while more expensive models are around $800.
A potential compromise can be found in ultraportables. The HP Mini 311, for example, costs $400 and has Nvidia ION graphics for video playback and games. A laptop like this may be a good compromise.
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Issue 3: Durability
One of the biggest problems with buying a laptop for a child is the possibility of the laptop breaking. Children are not easy on anything they own, generally speaking, and this is unlikely to be different with a laptop.
While I'd love to give an easy anwser to this question, the truth is that no easy anwser exists. The only laptops I would feel safe in calling "child-proof" are full ruggedized laptops like the Panasonic Toughbook series. However, this sort of laptop can cost well over $3000! That's out of the question for 99.9% of parents.
Instead of trying to find a laptop that can survive, try to limit the ways that your child interacts with the laptop. While the laptop can, indeed, be used on a lap, children should generally be restricted to using it on a desk. This greatly reduces the chance that the laptop will be damaged or destroyed by a fall. If the child does use the laptop away from a desk their usage should be carefully monitored.
It will also be important to make sure that your child understands that a laptop is fragile and can't be abused in any way. It is probably a good idea to use the laptop with your child for a time before your child can use it on their own. Make sure to immediately stop any activity that might be damaging, such as pounding on the keyboard or opening/closing the lid harshly.
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Issue 4: Internet and Network Access
Here's a scenario you may not of thought of: your child opens her laptop and is bored. She decided to click on the My Computer icon to see what is in there. She ends up in your networked folders and starts re-arranging stuff, unaware of what she's doing. Suddenly the media collection you've carefully organized is in pieces.
Child safety programs are generally oriented towards protecting your child from things. They're not meant to protect things from a child. For this reason it is important to be careful about what you child can connect to.
To prevent the possibility of an issue you can take steps to make it harder for your child to gain access to your network. The easiest way to do this is to set up a secured wireless network. Don't let Windows save the password or tell you child the password. This means they'll have to ask you whenever they want to get online or onto your network.
You can also protect your network by restricting the laptop's access. These settings are found in the Network and Sharing Center in the Windows control panel.
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Buying a laptop for a child can certainly feel like a harrowing experience, but it doesn't have to be. Considering the above issues will make it much easier to buy your child a laptop without becoming a worry-wart.