'Mom, Can Santa Bring Me An iPad?'

The Apple iPad is at the top of the Christmas wish list this year, for children aged six to 12. A Nielsen survey shows that 31 percent of kids in that age group are hoping to get the trendy device this year. But how young is “too young” for expensive IT gadgets? And is it okay for others to give your children such presents? Host Michel Martin talks with our panel of moms about hi-tech gifts over the holidays.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

They say it takes a village to raise a child, but maybe you just need a few moms in your corner. Every week we check in with a diverse group of parents for their common sense and savvy parenting advice. This week with the holidays here, we wanted to talk about buying gifts for the kids, especially those gifts that are trendy, cutting edge and, let's face it, expensive.

We're thinking especially of the electronic toys or gadgets or both that lots of kids are clamoring for this year. Don't get it twisted, adults are not the only ones who wants those new tablet-sized computers or smart phones. Kids want them, too. A survey by Nielsen Research showed that 31 percent of kids aged six to 12 are asking for iPads this year - six to 12. They want computers, iPod Touches and different incarnations of Nintendo or Sony Playstation game consoles.

So we wanted to talk about whether or not Santa is going to be allowed to bring an iPad or a smartphone or Xbox Kinect this Christmas, assuming Santa got it like that, with our moms, Dani Tucker, Leslie Morgan Steiner and Aracely Panameno. Also joining us for the first time is TELL ME MORE supervising senior editor Portia Robertson Migas. She's a mom of two, herself. Welcome, ladies, moms. Thanks for joining us.

Ms. DANI TUCKER: Thank you.

Ms. LESLIE MORGAN STEINER: Thanks for having us.

Ms. ARACELY PANAMENO: Thank you.

Ms. PORTIA ROBERTSON MIGAS: Thank you.

MARTIN: They're all kind of winding up here, because the question is, would you - if Santa had it like that - get an iPad or an iTouch for your grade schooler - and the overwhelming consensus is

Ms. TUCKER: No

Ms. STEINER: No.

Ms. PANAMENO: No.

Ms. MIGAS: Maybe.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Big fat no. Just give me - just briefly tell - Portia, I'll get to you in a minute, just tell me why.

Ms. PANAMENO: I think that technology should enhance life. It should enhance family issues. You know, it talks about the values of the family and so it's not in synch with that. I want to provide something that is going to help cohesion within the family. I don't want to provide distractions and I don't think that six to 12-year-olds are ready yet.

MARTIN: So, Aracely says big fat no. Dani? Dani was, like, she was ready to say no before she sat down. She was working on it before she sat down. Her lips were going - no.

Ms. TUCKER: Indeed. A big fat no, because I'm teaching my teenagers the difference between what they want and what they need. And when they come and they ask me for these gadgets, I always send them back, say, make you list - do you want it or do you need it? And you come back to me when that need side is longer than that want side. Because, you know, your mind says, well, I need music. You do, but does it have to be an iPad Touch or a $39 mp4? You understand? So it's not that I don't want them to have the things that are out there, that they don't have to be so expensive because you just want those.

You know, what you need - that's what I want to hear from you, because I feel if I start buying them from now, I'll be buying these things for them, going broke for the rest of my life.

MARTIN: Leslie, and what about you? And you never say big fat no.

Ms. STEINER: I do. I have an eight-year-old, a 12-year-old and a 13-year-old. They would love nothing more, each of them, than getting an iPad, their own iPad for Christmas. And my issue is that it just would be spoiling them and I don't want to spoil them. I don't want them to think that they deserve to get an $800 Christmas present and I don't want the perception, among their friends either, that they are so spoiled.

And if, I mean, I don't know many adults who have an iPad. And, god, the last thing I want is my kids running around school looking like the most spoiled kids on campus.

MARTIN: OK, Portia, you are actually the lone wolf here.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: So, you're saying maybe.

Ms. MIGAS: I'm in a difficult position. I want to say we haven't made any decisions yet. But we are

MARTIN: Well, Santa hasn't

Ms. MIGAS: Or Santa. We are contemplating this. I know it's treacherous waters. We're trying our best to navigate them safely. But I actually feel that technology is necessary. We need laptops. One of our laptops has died over the last year. Another laptop I killed about two weeks ago. And as we look for new laptops that we have to purchase for Christmas, the iPad is one of the things we're considering.

MARTIN: Well, think about, is cost the issue here or is trendiness? Because the fact of the matter is - and, you know, we're not giving a commercial here, if you're talking about packing a lot of technology into a fairly affordable package, even at $400, that's a pretty affordable item for a laptop. I mean, for a laptop or a desktop. I mean, I'm dating myself here, but I can remember my first desktop, which I purchased for myself cost $4,000. And I was working on a book with a friend of mine. Of course this was years ago when dinosaurs walked the earth.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: So, you know, $400 for that much technology packed into that small of a space is - what about the - what about it, Leslie? I mean, the fact is for the price, you know, a lot there.

Ms. STEINER: I actually think that you make - that both of you make a really point. I was given an iPad, not to plug iPads in particular, but I was given one for my birthday by my husband in July and I cannot believe how much I use it. And if I were a student, I would definitely want this because it's light, it's so portable, it's really user-friendly, you can use it for school. I mean, the note taking capability is terrific. The email, the photos, the music, it does do a whole lot.

I also want to say that I thought a lot about this and I - if somebody else wanted to give my kid an iPad, I would not stop them. I'm not opposed to a wonderful technological gift. I just can't do it because we have three kids and also I think there's something about a parent giving it that does send an excessive message, especially because my husband doesn't have one. I think you sort of - you've got to take care of the adults first. There's some signaling here that children do not rule the world. And I even asked my 13-year-old son, and he just screamed out, absolutely not.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Really?

Ms. STEINER: Yes, even though he wants one.

MARTIN: So...

Ms. STEINER: He wouldn't get one for his own kid.

MARTIN: That's interesting. So you're saying the grown-ups, you're sending the wrong message, like kids rule the world here if the adults don't have one first and the kid gets one. But what about this idea that Leslie, you wouldn't mind if somebody else, like the proverbial, you know, rich uncle...

Ms. STEINER: Right. Right.

MARTIN: ...decided to pony up.

Ms. STEINER: If rich Uncle Tim decided to, yeah.

MARTIN: Or gave Santa the go-ahead.

Ms. STEINER: Right.

MARTIN: You wouldn't say no?

Ms. STEINER: No, I actually, I wouldn't say no.

MARTIN: Portia, you actually have a different view of that. Tell me about that.

Ms. MIGAS: I do. I do. I think that when you buy technology, that the parents and family need to be part of it. We have a great fabulous Uncle Andy in our family and he has no children of his own, so he pays quite a bit of attention to my children. When my boys were in second and fifth grade, he gifted them with iPods.

MARTIN: iPods.

Ms. MIGAS: They got iPods in second and fifth grade from Uncle Andy. And I thought they were just too young. I wanted them connected to me, not to be in a car with little buds in their ears and able to tune me out.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. MIGAS: So, I actually took those iPods and I donated them to charity to be auctioned off.

MARTIN: Aracely, what about you, and then Dani. Aracely?

Ms. PANAMENO: I think that it does contribute to role reversal, for example, particularly for immigrant communities where children are much more expose to technological advances, parents having had the same opportunities to have that level of the education or to be familiarized with the technology that is available. I think that all of this technology, technological gadgets challenge families and challenge parents to stay up on top of what's out there, so that we can get some level of monitoring. I think that we concede our control when we gift it to them.

It would be entirely different if it was the home computer, where the kids are allowed - my daughter was allowed. She grew up in a household where there was a computer from the moment that she understood anything. There was, you know, the dinosaur computers were in my house and she's grown up with that. She doesn't know what it is for a phone that you dial like this, you know.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: But that's the family computer.

Ms. PANAMENO: And that's the family...

MARTIN: You don't like the idea...

Ms. PANAMENO: I don't like the idea of her having her own where she's completely, well, now she's older. And, you know, for me giving her a cell phone, for example, it began with that - that was the first challenge. But mom, everybody else has it in the classroom, you know, at school, et cetera. Well, everybody else is not my children.

MARTIN: But what about the argument you made that - you're saying that part of it, particularly in immigrant communities where kids have access to things that perhaps the adults didn't grew up with and are not as familiar, the argument could be made that parents are holding the kids back by not giving them access to technology that they can then use to assimilate, for want of a better word. What about that argument?

Ms. PANAMENO: Well, I think that, I think like I say, it challenges the family to stay on top of those things and to become familiarized so that we can establish controls and ground rules in the house. You know, you come to the dinner table with everybody having a cell phone and they are texting underneath the table and nobody's really connected, right, to the family, where in Latino families everything happens in the kitchen or at the table. You know, we have had this very lively conversations where other people looking in would say, oh, they're arguing. No, we're having a very engaged conversation.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. PANAMENO: You know, that would cease to exist.

MARTIN: Dani?

Ms. TUCKER: I agree with giving them - letting them have the gift, because it has happened to Imani. Her iPod is...

MARTIN: Give - I'm sorry, give them the gift if someone else is willing to pony up.

Ms. TUCKER: If someone else gave it to them. My boss gave her an iPod upgrade because something happened to her old one, and I said I wasn't getting her another one. And he says, well, I think she's learned her lesson. Do you mind if I give her this one? And I said, yeah. And I don't mind because, A, you have to teach your children how to, learn how to accept gifts and what to do with them.

I said, now there is one condition on them receiving this gift, she's got to share it with her brother and with the family. So I put music on there, he put music on there, she put music on there, and we rotate the iPod. So the gift blessed the family. At the same time, they learned to take another gift of theirs and bless another family.

MARTIN: But what about Aracely's point that the idea of letting someone outside the family - Portia, I think at the same perspective - that letting somebody outside the family gift a child with something expensive in a way diminishes your authority?

Ms. MIGAS: Absolutely.

Ms. TUCKER: No, I don't think it is...

MARTIN: It's a challenge to your authority.

Ms. TUCKER: ...because the bottom line is you have the right to tell that person yes or no that they can give them the gift. So really, how is that diminishing your authority? They can't force it in your child's hand unless you give them a approval. So you still have the right to say no, you don't want your child to have that gift or yes, and that to me is the authority.

MARTIN: Its a tough one. Aracely, what do you want to say here?

Ms. PANAMENO: Well, even as I sit here, the outlier, the one who is contemplating buying this technological gift, I set very, very rigid limits within my house. I want to say that I was a television producer for more than 20 years and we just got cable six years ago.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. PANAMENO: Okay? So that's who I am. My kids are not allowed to play with these electronic toys during the school week. They, I set them up as privileges which can be taken away.

Ms. MIGAS: Yes.

Ms. PANAMENO: And that's a great motivator. So, yes, I am contemplating this, but regulating electronic use for my boys is very important to me.

MARTIN: If youre just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We're talking with our panel of Moms about whether to give the go-ahead to Santa to buy electronic gifts for this Christmas. And, of course, Hanukkah just passed, so I'm sure that there are other mothers who are debating this very question over the course of the past week.

With us are our regular contributors: Dani Tucker, Leslie Morgan Steiner and Aracely Panameno. Also joining the conversation is TELL ME MORE's supervising senior editor Portia Robertson Migas, a mother of two boys as well. Aracely?

Ms. PANAMENO: Well, what I wanted to say is that the underlying theme of our conversation is parent involvement. And I think that originally, when we began this portion of the conversation, we were talking about rich uncle without asking or consulting parents gifting something. In every instance, I think that we've seen, we've said we want to be engaged.

In my family, oftentimes, I am the one in a social position, a financial position to give gifts to some of my nieces and nephews and I go to their parents first. And there are some things that I disagree with, whether my nephew has had too many games, TV games, where he just sits and I'm unconcerned about, you know, weight and obesity and health and are you not engaged in physical activity? Are you spending too much time in front, et cetera, et cetera?

MARTIN: Do you raise this with the parents? Because, you know, that can be a sticky wicket too when a parent says I want my son to have a Nintendo DS and you said, you know what, I would not buy this for my child. What do you - and if they go, yeah, but I want my, you know, child to have this, what do you do? Do you say yes or no? What do you do?

Ms. PANAMENO: I say no because he's then - my family would then be challenging my own values and they would be demanding of me on the basis of their perception of my financial ability. That's not what gifting is about and that's not what the Christmas season for me as a Christian, what the Christmas season is about.

MARTIN: Dani?

Ms. TUCKER: Something that I see in my world, especially in middle class families that needs to be talked about is when they're buying these kids these high gadget gifts to stay trendy and their rent is not paid, and their mortgage is not paid. Now we got a big problem with that.

I'm in the store, I kid you - my neighbor and she's complaining about, you know, she needs this amount a month for her mortgage. Now I'm looking at her and I'm looking down at the kid because he has this smartphone with the, you know. And I'm looking at her, and looking at the phone, I'm looking at the, you know, while she's going through this whole talk about, oh my god I, you know, I just don't know. I am like $300 short. So I'm looking, you know, I'm trying to get her to get the message, you know, follow the eyes - phone, rent, phone, rent.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. TUCKER: And I'm finding that, especially in middle class where I live, you know, suburban areas, these parents, I'm like, you want this child to be so in the know and so to have that you can't live in that phone. So come on, you know, because she goes - and then she looks at me, well, your kids have both. I say your dadgone(ph) right, for $50 a month. That's it. You know, that's all we pay and the phone cost $40. Okay and my rent's paid. You know, it's got to be a priority thing. But there are so many of these parents out here, I kid you not, that are going broke to buy these gadgets for these kids because they want them to be trendy.

MARTIN: Wow. Well, break it down.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Leslie, you wanted to say something, and after you do I have a question for you.

Ms. STEINER: I think that the other part of going broke can be sort of a spiritual going broke or being so focused on yourself. And my eight-year-old would really like to get a cell phone for Christmas. My 12-year-old would really like to get a really fancy iPhone. Neither one of those are going to get those.

But when they ask about it, I kind of let a silence fall and then I look at them and I say and what are you getting mommy for Christmas? Because I pretty much guarantee you they have not thought for one second what they're getting mommy and that really stops the conversation.

MARTIN: Can I, we are all moms here so I would like to ask if there were dads here, do you think they might have a different perspective on this because...

Ms. TUCKER: Oh, yeah.

MARTIN: ...not to stereotype people, but I think sometimes dads are more interested in technology than perhaps moms are. And I do wonder if the dads were here if they might have a different view of this? Portia, what you think?

Ms. MIGAS: Absolutely. Now, I am the person who two years ago, as wonderful Uncle Andy and grandma and grandpa got all these fabulous gifts for my boys, from us they just got books. So let's say they, because - and they love their books. My husband and I both enjoy giving them books. But my husband more than I, I hope I'm not throwing you under the bus too much...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. MIGAS: ...is more interested in this technological stuff. So as he looks to upgrading his iPhone, and we're looking at getting my 11-year-old whether or not he should get a cell phone for Christmas, what type of cell phone we should get him. And the question is is his choice much greater than my choice there?

MARTIN: Leslie, what you think? Do you think that if Perry were here he might have a different view of the matter?

Ms. STEINER: Well, I can sort of...

MARTIN: Well, he does get to weigh in obviously, because he lives there but...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. STEINER: I could do like the whole PG thesis on why Perry has not thought for one second about gifts for the kids.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. STEINER: One is that he's Jewish...

MARTIN: Well, yeah.

Ms. STEINER: ...so it's not his tradition. Two, he's like really last minute about giving gifts. And he would sort of rather get the kids what they need on an ongoing basis than make a really big deal about buying them something really special. But I think in terms of technology, he and I are really on the same page. We will get all of our children cell phones eventually. We will get them laptops when they, you know, as Portia's saying, when there is a need for it. But, and I think I tend to be a little more harsh.

Like another example, he's going to - Max is, one of his Christmas presents he's going to California to visit his favorite three boy cousins. He's not taking his laptop with him. And I know my husband is going to like hit the roof when I tell him this but, you know, he's going to visit his cousins, not to Skype with all of his school friends while he's in California. So I think that I am more harsh about technology overload and permissiveness, not so much in terms of gift giving but just in general family rules.

MARTIN: You know, this has been a really good discussion and I know it's been a good discussion because I'm more confused than I was at the beginning...

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: ...because now I really don't know - now I really don't know what to do here.

Leslie Morgan Steiner, Dani Tucker, Aracely Panameno are our regular Moms and contributors, and we also thank TELL ME MORE supervising senior editor and mom Portia Robertson Migas for joining us today.

Thank you all so much.

Ms. TUCKER: Thank you.

Ms. STEINER: Thank you.

Ms. PANAMENO: Thank you.

Ms. MIGAS: Thank you.

(Soundbite of music)

MARTIN: And that's our program for today. Im Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Lets talk more tomorrow.

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