There isn't a holiday season that goes by that most parents aren't treated to the seasonal joy of caroling neighbors and cajoling children. There's always something your kids want that you don't want to give them, whether because it's too expensive, too mature or too hard to find. But this year, you should seriously consider giving him or her that pricey iPad (or tablet) that adorns many an underage wishlist this year -- not for their sake, but for your own.
After all, I think we parents can admit that our kids -- even the ones who haven't mastered long division yet -- probably know as well as we do (if not better) how to use our devices, so whatever controls we think we're setting, we're probably not -- and that's if we don't have to ask them to set them for us. But in reality, most of us are as rigorous about installing parental blocks and monitoring programs as we are about securing our smartphones and password protecting our computers -- which is to say, not very.
But in the mean time, our iPads and tablets contain a whole lot of data that can be put at risk by little fingers: banking and credit card company apps, shopping apps, even geo-location data on social media sites or pictures that tell our "friends" and "followers" not only who we are, but where we are, what we have and what we're doing. Giving your tablet to your kid will very likely impact your search history -- what your search engine knows you're looking for and finds out you're looking at -- which can have legal consequences (pirated downloads or illegal imagery, for instance) or it can just annoy you by showing you less-tailored results.
Meanwhile, if a child is under 13, most companies -- from Facebook to search engines and beyond -- aren't allowed to offer them accounts or track what they do. (Rep. Joe Barton of Texas and Sen. Ed Markey of Mass. recently introduced legislation extend that prohibition to children up to age 15.) So if your little (or not so little) ones had their own iPads and their own accounts, that which can be traced back to you won't be.
But the solution isn't to deny your kids access to Angry Birds or whatever educational program you'd like to believe they spend just as much time playing. (Besides, every parent knows that an out-and-out prohibition against anything is more likely to result in extraordinary efforts to do that thing anyway.) Instead, set aside the money and get them an iPad of their very own -- and make sure the Genius Bar helps you set up all those parental controls.
That way, your child gets what she or he wants, you get the privacy protections you need and you both get the security of knowing that his or her online behavior won't impact either of your lives for a little while longer.
At least until they figure out how to download SnapChat.
Adam Levin is chairman and cofounder of Credit.com and Identity Theft 911. His experience as former director of the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs gives him unique insight into consumer privacy, legislation and financial advocacy. He is a nationally recognized expert on identity theft and credit.