Buying a Computer for a Teen
Advice, discussions, and reviews from the
Parents of Teens weekly email newsletter.
Berkeley Parents Network >
Teens, Preteens, & Young Adults >
Buying a Computer for a Teen
Looking for some advice about purchasing a computer for my
teen. If you've purchased one, or decided against it!,
we'd love your opinions.
First, did you purchase a laptop, or desktop model, and
how did you decide? Are you expecting this to be the
computer he/she uses through college?
If you have your own computer at home, did you prefer to
have your teen's computer networked to yours? Again, how
did you decide? (What are the pros and cons of connecting
Thirdly, a good source for purchasing one, either laptop
or desktop? Are there any ''good deals'' with the economy
the way it is (the way there are sales on cars, clothing,
etc.) Money's a little tight (like everyone, probably)
And lastly, what specifications are ''standard'' these days,
and what's necessary (vs. optional)?
Thanks so very much for any advice / assistance /
information you can give.
Teen wants (needs?) computer
You don't say what grade your teen is in. Assuming that
he is a freshman, I'd plan on buying one computer for high
school and expect to buy another to use in college
(computers get outmoded, certainly after 4 years).
The laptop vs. desktop decision depends on how the
computer will be used. For example, is your teen into
photography and therefore would like a larger monitor?
Are they going to use it only for typing papers? For the
same specifications, laptops are much more expensive, so
if you are trying to save money, the desktop would make
more sense. The key issue with laptops is that if your
child carries them around, he or she has to be extremely
vigilant that they are not left ANYWHERE EVEN FOR A MINUTE
where someone could steal them. So it takes away from the
ease of using the laptop if one has to be constantly
worrying about someone stealing it.
When the teen goes to college, a different decision might
be made. But that decision will be based on what college
the teen is going to, what the major will be, etc. So I
would leave that decision for the next computer purchase.
I've always enjoyed talking to Dell salespeople on the
phone. You can tell them what you want, that you're
looking for the lowest price computer for a teen, etc. and
they can give you their good opinion. Then with this idea
in mind, go to Best Buy and see what they have to offer.
Then you can call Dell back and continue to refine your
Consumer Reports also rates computers and discusses
specifications. Berkeley Public Libraries keep current
(and past) issues so look for a recent issue discussing
computers. Their article may provide answers to many of
the questions you ask.
We did fine with one computer (and one TV, no video game console) in the
house throughout high school. The summer before college we asked each
son to decide which kind of computer he wanted and we budgeted $700. The
first chose a Dell desktop and a large, used monitor; the second chose a Mac
laptop for which he paid the difference. During high school they used the
family desktop Mac in the ''great'' room, where we could keep an eye on its
use. ''Screen time,'' including both computer and TV, was limited; going
to friends' houses on weeknights was not allowed. The results weren't as
great as we hoped--they didn't turn into avid readers, and only one has
excelled academically, but I think they appreciate that we didn't let them
addicted to electronic games or TV.
--A mom of a teen (for just a few more months)
For both my teens, I chose to have them use mine and not
buy them their own until right before they left for
college. My computer sits in the family room, so I can
still see them and communicate with them if I'm in the fam
rm or kitchen. I did this deliberately, thinking that if
they had their own, they'd be holed up in their room.
Also, it gave me the option of installing monitoring
software if I was worried my teens might be doing some
unwise surfing (I was able to see my naive teen daughter
starting a risky behavior, and stop it). Although
having ''only'' one computer means we have to be considerate
and share the computer, that's a sacrifice that pays off,
too. BTW, they each had their own computer at their dad's
house, and spent way more time isolated in their rooms
Happy we shared
We never let our kids have a computer in their rooms (or a
TV). We felt it was too dangerous. We have a second
computer in our ''computer room'' (guest room) and a laptop,
and they are all networked. This gives us access to our
kids files logs etc. if we need it. I give my daughter her
privacy, but she knows I have access to her user account if
she gives me a reason to.
We just gave my older daughter a laptop this year for her
birthday. She was moving away and going to college. The
advice I got from our IT guru at work was go to Frys on the
weekend (preferably Sunday morning) and see what laptop they
have thats at least a core duo, 2 mb ram, 2 ghz, 120g hard
drive under $500. There's always one. My daughter's is a
Compaq, we got it for $349, and we got the extended
warrantee. It even came with a free case.
We are very lucky to have a grandma who has purchased
computers for our kids. They both got laptops. One
wanted a bigger screened one, that was a mistake! Get a
smaller screen. 17 inch laptop screens are not for
carrying around and are more expensive. That computer was
one of the first Vista models and has been a problem. The
other son got a mac laptop. We are not mac users and were
worried, but the thing works like a dream! I would
recommend going that route! He can do the whole itunes
thing, garage band, all the fun stuff and his homework
We've decided to give our daughter a computer for college as a high school graduation gift (similar to the the typewriter I received a million years ago), but are stuck on a couple of key points:
1) Mac or PC, and
2) Laptop or "regular" size.
She doesn't really have a strong feeling re: the Mac or PC question. She does think she wants a laptop, but I am leery of wrist problems with a laptop keyboard, as well as fearful of the increased risk of theft/loss with a laptop. The one thing we do know is to order the computer (once we've decided on all the details) and have it shipped directly to her college--saves lugging it there.
Any input from your experience would be greatly appreciated.
(1) My understanding if that, unless you're planning to do
a lot of graphics or desktop publishing, there's no reason
to get a Mac. Sorry, Mac lovers. There's more software
for PC's and greater flexibility and connectivity with
networks. I could be completely wrong, and someone may
offer all the good reasons for selecting a Mac, but if you
haven't used one before, I would see no reason to send your
kid off to to college with one.
(2) Laptop definitely. You can get cable locks to secure
them to dorm room desks. You can get a full-size keyboard
as an add-on. My Dell (Inspiron 8600) is full-size; it
just doesn't have a separate number pad. Dell (and others,
no doubt) sell a very nice stand that holds the laptop up
so that the monitor is at eye level and the add-on keyboard
fits below. You can even go more $$ than that simple
solution and get a docking station to go with a separate
monitor. (Think of the laptop as a portable harddrive).
The convenience of being able to take the laptop to class
should not be overlooked.
Good luck! You probably can't make a *wrong'' choice.
I got my son a Dell laptop 3 years ago when he left for college
but had to replace it recently with a desktop. Why? He dropped
it several times, moving from the dorm to an apt,, then
frmo apt. to house, and bringing it
home on the plane several times. Dell was great about fixing it the first time -
brought a replacement to his dorm when they took his broken one away for
repairs, just the regular warranty, no charge.
But finally he dropped it another time after the warranty
expired, and that was it for the laptop.
You don't have this problem with something that's harder to
move (a desktop.) But you may have a more careful child than I do.
The other problem with the laptop was the size of my son.
He complained that the screen was too small and too far below
his line of sight, and that he had to hunch over to use it and
it hurt his back after a while.
Big upside of a desktop: it's a LOT cheaper than
a laptop. It doesn't hurt the mom as much if they drop it or
decide they need something with more bells and whistles in a couple
of years. I got a new Dell desktop a couple of months ago with
monitor and keyboard for about $400. They ship it free so no
hassle getting it to him. It was a special under "business solutions" on
the dell website. Check dell.com for specials. Good luck!
Both of our children took Macintosh laptops to college. We gave them a
sturdy cable lock, similar to a bicycle lock, to secure it to a desk or bed
frame. Both laptop and desktop computers were common at their
colleges. We thought laptops had far greater versatility: to come home
with them on vacations, to accompany them to the library, to be used in
bed, or sitting in the lounge, or in friends' rooms. If your daughter's
college has wireless networking, she would be able to connect to the
school network from a variety of locations, too (most schools have plug-
in connections in the library.)
As to Mac vs. PC, the school may have a strong preference, indicating a
greater willingness to provide technical support for that type of
computer. We're a Mac family, but I won't get into the Mac/PC wars. A
good argument can be made for each platform.
If you buy her a laptop, consider an insurance policy that covers
accidental breakage. Their screens are the most vulnerable and costly to
A friend of mine who had only a desktop computer at
college had a lot of trouble with being stuck in his room
- which was noisy - because he needed to work on it.
He would have loved a laptop that he could take to a
library or outside when he needed to get away from the
relentless socializing in his dorm.
I'm definitely a Mac person, not PC. Aside from all of the
issues of taste and software (there IS more software for the
PC, but the operating system environment is not nearly so
nice), you should weigh the fact that Macs have virtually no
problem with viruses. That saves a lot of time, trouble,
and sometimes money, and could save all the information
stored on your computer at some point.
Love those Macs
The Mac vs PC things is rather boring but I thought I would put in
my 2 cents worth. We have 4 PC's in our house and 2 are Mac, 2
are ''PC's. I use both and have definitely used ''PC's'' more through
work, etc. But I grew up on Mac as my dad was VP at Apple
throughout my jr and sr high school and undergrad years back in
the day. I remember him bringing home the first prototype of that
very first boxy Mac...Anyway, I love Mac, use it for my home biz,
etc. One daughter has a Dell laptop and the other has a
Powerbook. They each love theirs (isn't that typical of 2 sisters).
Altho there is less software available, I have NEVER had a virus or
worm on my Mac. With Virtual PC, I no longer have any problems
with reading ''PC'' files, etc. I also like that Apple does a lot with
schools and colleges. I am entering Grad school this fall and I
already was able to get a new Powerbook for a nice discount so I
can bring it with me to class, etc.
Just my 2 cents and that is what it worth, just 2 cents. Enjoy!
this page was last updated: Sep 27, 2013
BPN is now a 501(c)(3) non-profit and we are building a new website!
Read more, and see how you can help:
The opinions and statements expressed on this website
are those of parents who subscribe to the
Berkeley Parents Network.
Disclaimer & Usage for
information about using content on this website.
Copyright © 1996-2015 Berkeley Parents Network