Did I Ruin My Girl By Giving Her a Nook?

6 years ago

Late last year, I received a NOOKColor for review. Read: free. And I gave it to my six-year-old.

Let me back up. Like many of you, I used to do a ton of product reviews, both on my own review blog and for Cool Mom Picks. And I never thought twice about handing those gorgeous, top-of-the-line picture books over to my girl. But the Nook? That retails for $250? That gave me pause.

When I wanted a new car for my sixteenth birthday, my parents told me they wouldn't give one to me even if they could. "If you get a new car now, what will you have to look forward to?" they said. I thought at the time it was one of those parent excuses that sound all lofty and idealistic but are really designed to cover up their own stinginess. Fast-forward to 2008, when my husband and I bought our first new car ever, a very basic but very new Corolla. I spent several days with my head buried in the upholstery, wallowing in new-car smell. That we bought ourselves, with our own money that we earned -- almost 20 years after our sixteenth birthdays.

My parents were right.

I thought about the new-car conversation while staring at the Nook. It isn't the first ereader I've received. I got a normal Nook for review earlier in 2010 and a Kindle for Christmas 2009. This ereader is number three for our family of three. I considered giving the color Nook to my husband and the normal Nook to my girl, but that didn't make sense, really, because she's the only one in the family who still reads picture books or wants to be read aloud to. She's the one who functions far better with a touchscreen than buttons. And she's the one who will be most likely to use an ereader in school as technology changes and expands.

I caressed the Nook. So shiny. So breakable. So adverse to sticky fingers and spilled drinks and being dropped on the tile floor. And so expensive. Even if I didn't pay for it, should she have something so expensive at six?

The ambivalence was tough. As a friend said recently, "If you give them everything, what do they have left to give themselves?"

My daughter with the robot kitten she designed from trash and still plays with.

Then I thought about technology and kids in general. I know so many kids who have smartphones and DS systems and laptops and Xboxes and Wiis and Leapfrogs and stuff I don't even know the name of. Would I be so ambivalent about giving her a DS? How much do those things cost? Or is it just that a Nook seems more like something an adult would want, so I'm putting it in the category of "luxury goods," not "toys"?

I certainly value books more than games -- it's who I am. I'm a reader. I'm a writer. I'm not a gamer. I almost never say no to books and almost always say no to games and toys. Why would I be different about virtual books? Especially when the device was free? Aren't books what I value for her?

And it was that thinking that pushed me over the edge.

Someone said recently it is kind of ridiculous for our family of three to have three ereaders, but I don't think that person really understood how ereaders work. I'm currently trying to extract a book about the guy who busted the BTK killer off my daughter's Nook because I set it up with the same account as mine. Oops. Do you want other people in your family seeing all your highlights, all your notes, messing up where you were in your book every time they open it?

If you're going to be an ereader person, you really need your own. If you're a voracious reader, you would no more share your ereader than you would your toothbrush or your textbook. And so far, I am raising a reader. The two bookshelves in her room are stuffed beyond capacity, and she's at two different libraries every week. I decided to get over my fear of the luxury good and hand her the Nook already.

However, this whole experience solidified for me that I don't want to give her many luxury goods during her childhood. I'm really relieved she shows no interest in gaming systems or phones or fancy bikes or motorized kiddie cars. Because she's not getting them any time soon. I'm realizing more than ever we have to show, not tell, how we reinforce our values as a family with our spending. That sounds so preachy and self-righteous it makes me want to vomit -- I'm not blameless. But I'm trying to be thoughtful about what she's learning from me when it comes to instant gratification. My parents gave me a gift when they taught me to wait. I want her to have that same gift, whether or not her mom does product reviews.

Even if we could afford a new car for her sixteenth birthday, we've already decided she's getting our Corolla. It will be twelve years old by then, just about perfect for a new driver. I also enjoy pointing that fact out every time she wipes peanut butter on the upholstery in the backseat. You're trashing your own car, love. Won't that be embarrassing when your friends sit back there?

Do your kids have a DS? A smartphone? An iPad? An ereader? A new car? Do you have the same ambivalence about giving them luxury goods?

Rita Arens authors Surrender Dorothy and is the editor of Sleep is for the Weak. She is BlogHer's assignment and syndication editor.

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