Skill-Building Opportunities
Critical Thinking
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My Child Always Wants The Newest Technology

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Every time a new version of my son’s cell phone comes out, he wants me to buy it for him. How can I get him to stop asking for the latest thing?

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These digital natives are hip to the latest technology. While we all agree that technology is an important part of today’s world, it can be a real challenge to figure out its place in your child’s life. Both of you might feel pressure from others to keep up with the latest gadgets, and it can get expensive. By promoting the life skill of Critical Thinking, you can help your child learn to make smart decisions about balancing what he wants with what he needs.


Critical Thinking

is the ongoing search for valid and reliable knowledge to guide beliefs, decisions and actions.

Tips to build this skill:


Help your child complete research about what he wants to buy from written information and from people.

When parents join into the process of asking questions and looking for the best answers with their children, they help their children learn to think in this way.

First, figure out what you need to know about the new phone. For example:

  • In what ways is the new phone different from the old phone?
  • How do these new features work, and are they necessary?
  • How much does the new phone cost? Is the contract over for the old phone?
  • Is there a trade-in price?
  • What’s the value of the price it would cost to get a new phone? What else could you buy with that amount of money?

It would be very easy for you to say either yes or no to the phone, but by going through this process with your son, you are teaching him to be a good consumer as well as developing his Critical Thinking skills.

Now, help your child figure out how to find the answers to the questions you have developed. He could go to the local library and look for reliable websites on the Internet or read reviews in technology magazines.

Paul Harris of Harvard University and Melissa Koenig of the University of Minnesota have studied how children develop an understanding of whom they can trust for truthful information. Koening and Harris found that children do not necessarily just believe what they are told. As they get older, children are better able to identify the people they can trust for accurate information. They also found that adults are essential in helping children learn to evaluate the accuracy of different and even conflicting information.

Think about your friends, family members, neighbors and colleagues as “experts” who can share their experiences, knowledge and interests with your child. Talking to others and listening to their opinions is another great way to gain information that might help to guide your child’s decision making.


Give your child responsibility for contributing to the cost of the phone.

Although children’s “gimmes”—“give me this, give me that”—can be annoying, this behavior provides families a great opportunity to help their children learn about the value of money. Giving them responsibility for contributing to the cost of a purchase makes the value of money real, helps children prioritize about how to spend money and makes every purchase more meaningful.

  • Talk about the cost. How does the cost compare to other things you might purchase for that amount of money?
  • Talk about the family budget and how you decide what to spend your money on. This is a great time to share your values and your realities about spending money.

Whether or not you ultimately decide to buy the new phone, you need to think through what you would expect him to contribute to the purchase. For example:

  • How much should he contribute to the purchase price?
  • Where would he get the money for his contribution—saving up from his allowance(if he has one), earning the money by doing special (not regular) chores or requesting the phone as a holiday or birthday gift?

Encourage your child to reflect on the research and conversations you have had.

Critical Thinking involves “thinking about our thinking” by reflecting, questioning, reasoning, planning and evaluating. In the words of Frank Keil of Yale University:

“Critical thinking is the ability to step back and look at what you’re doing and to evaluate.”

Reflecting means using the skill of Focus and Self Control—stepping back from a situation and thinking about all of the information involved before making a decision.

Philip Zelazo of the University of Minnesota says:

“Our research over the years has suggested successful goal-directed problem solving depends on reflection on information including what you know and how it relates to the problem as you find it. Reflection results in and makes critical thinking possible.”
  • Ask your child to reflect on the information you have gathered. What are the benefits for him of getting a new phone? What are the drawbacks? If possible, ask him to write down his answers and to come up with a creative way to share them with you—like through a story, drawings or photos or his own magazine articles.

Use problem-solving to arrive at a conclusion.

Problem-solving involves a step-like process of arriving at a conclusion, drawing onExecutive Function skills.

At this point, you and your son are ready to make a decision about a new phone.

  • Talk about the benefits and the drawbacks that he has outlined. Do you agree or not?
  • What is the conclusion he has reached about buying a new phone? What is the conclusion you have reached?

By going through this process together, the chances are high that you will agree. If not, you call the decision, perhaps agreeing to reopen the discussion at a specific time.


Encourage your child to be a critical viewer.

When watching television with your child, use it as an opportunity to continue to develop your son’s critical viewing skills. Act like a television critic, and ask your child questions like:

  • “Why do you think the company chose to sell shoes that way? Do you think those shoes will make you cool, or is the company just trying to sell you something?”
  • “Do you want to buy that video game after watching that commercial? Why, or why not?”
  • “Do you get sick of seeing this ad, or is it fun to watch? Why?”
  • “Ask your child to write, draw or videotape his own ad or commercial for the phone he wants. How would he sell the product?”

If you think your child has gotten information that isn’t true or that his friends or television are influencing him, ask him how he can find out if the information he is getting is truthful.


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