Technology for Large Families: What to Buy and How to Share

How to make the most of tech with a large family (and a small budget)

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Tablet or laptop? When should you give your child a cell phone? Apple or Android? How much screen time is too much? If you’re a parent in 2020, you’ve asked yourself these questions and more, because technology isn’t just a fun luxury anymore—it’s a straight-up necessity.

Today’s kids are surrounded by tech everywhere they go. It’s at home and at school, on the playground, the school bus, and even their backpacks (hello, USB charging port!). If you’re parenting a tech-raised kid, you not only need to know what technology they’re coming into contact with every day but also how to moderate their usage. 

Too little, and they won’t be able to keep up with their peers as they move onto higher levels of education and, eventually, the workforce. Too much, though, and they could easily develop an unhealthy relationship with gadgets and devices.

As if it’s not hard enough trying to figure out the intersection of parenting and technology in the 21st century, families with five or more kids have an even tougher task: how to evenly distribute technology throughout their household.

If you’re parenting a big brood, here’s everything you need to know about what kid-friendly technology will give you the most bang for your buck (and how to get your kids sharing that tech without losing your sanity).

Figure Out Your Goal

Before you can figure out what tech to purchase for your large family, you need to think about what your family will use it for. Will it be restricted to educational purposes only? Or do you just want a way to keep your kids busy every night while you cook dinner? Your tech needs will dictate what type of tech you buy.

What you need vs. what to buy
If you need: You should buy:
educational software (Office programs, online curriculum) a desktop computer or laptop
to play videos, movies, or music a tablet or mp3 player
apps and games (educational or recreational) a tablet or large-screen
e-books a tablet or e-reader (like a Kindle)

Buying More Than One Device

Once you know what you need to buy, you should consider the cost of not only buying one device, but possibly multiple. If you need a desktop computer or laptop, odds are you will only be purchasing one for your entire family to share (more on that next). 

But if you’re planning to buy a smaller handheld device, like a tablet or e-reader, you’ll need to think about whether you want to purchase multiple devices so that each member of your family gets his or her own. 

The biggest consideration when thinking about buying multiple devices is the sheer cost. Here is a breakdown of the pricing for some of the more common family-friendly devices.

  • Desktop computer or laptop: These can range from several hundred dollars to several thousand. If you're not sure what you need, consider going in person to an electronic store and asking for advice. A well-informed tech employee should be able to help you find a computer that meets your needs.
  • iPads: The newest model of iPad costs about $450, so it may be out of your budget to buy in bulk! But they are also extremely versatile, and can eliminate the need for several different devices for gaming, education, and media.
  • Kindles and tablets are significantly cheaper than iPads, especially if you buy an older generation Fire tablet, like a 7 or 8. You can also wait for a good sale—on Prime Day, for example, the Fire 7 was just $29.99, compared to its regular price of $49.99.
  • E-readers and Mp3 players: These fall somewhere in between pricey iPads and affordable Kindles. You can play games or access the internet on some versions of both devices, but they work best when used simply for books and music, respectively.

Budget Hack: Buying Used

Many stores sell gently used or refurbished electronic devices at a steep discount, so if you're on a budget and open to buying second-hand, you might be able to score a "like new" tablet or e-reader for less than half the price of a new one.

You can also search your local online marketplaces (like Facebook or Craigslist) for private sellers looking to make a little money back on a used item. As always, make sure you shop safely online and meet up for exchanges in public places.

Buying individual devices might be reasonable if you have four or five kids, but less so if you have eight or nine! In that case, consider your kids’ ages—some may be too old or young for whatever device you’re buying.

For example, if you have six kids in your family ranging from two to fourteen, you may only need to buy four tablets (your two-year-old doesn’t need his own device yet and your 14-year-old probably uses his smartphone for everything anyway).

One final note: large families on tight budgets also need to remember that, with most tech purchases, it doesn’t stop with the device itself. You may need an SD card, a wireless mouse, headphones or ear buds, or a protective tablet case. These are additional costs that you will have to factor into your budget (especially if you’re buying more than one device, because it all adds up quickly).

How to Divide and Conquer

Now, for the really hard part: sharing! If you’ve decided to buy one device for each member of your family, you’re good to go (once you establish screen time rules). But if that’s not in your budget or doesn’t jive with your parenting style, you have to figure out a fair way to divide the technology time so everyone gets a chance to use it.

Method 1: Block out a Schedule (One Device)

If you have one family device, like a laptop or desktop computer, your best bet is to set up a rotating schedule of use and post it where everyone can easily check it. In this case, you’re probably also mainly using technology for educational or school-related purposes, so you’ll have to make sure everyone has a set amount of time to access the computer and complete their work.

Games, music, movies, or other forms of entertainment would happen only if and when everyone’s assignments are completed (and you would probably need a schedule for that, too, or to restrict it only to weekend recreational use).

Method 2: Split Up the Week (Multiple Devices)

If you have more than one device—but still more kids!—the easiest way to decide who’s turn it is would be to assign kids screen time on certain days of the week. For example, three of your kids get tablet time on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, while the other three get it on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays or Sundays. If it’s not your day, you don’t get a tablet. 

Method 3: Tech time = Together Time (Any Number of Devices)

If your kids are required to always use technology with at least one other sibling, you’ve eliminated the sharing problem entirely. When they want to play a game, they have to play with someone. When they want to use a learning app, they have to pass the tablet back and forth as they take turns. There’s a bonus here, too: screen time doesn’t lead to isolation but rather interaction, which leads to a healthier perspective on its overall usage. 

A Word From Verywell

Technology can be a valuable tool, but not all technology is appropriate for all kids. Whatever you choose to buy for your family and however you decide to share it, make sure you are well-informed about what information your kids are able to access and utilize safeguards to protect your children from inappropriate content or interactions online

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