With the rapid development of technology and platforms for social media and “connection,” our kids will be the most tech-savvy generation on earth (until of course, maybe they have kids!). In this article, we explore important considerations for parents in this digital age; how to navigate kids’ (and quite frankly, our own) use of screens to keep it healthy; and perhaps most telling of all, what industry insiders (i.e. tech and social media CEOs) can teach us about screens through THEIR actions and limits with THEIR kids.
Important considerations for parents
This is a time of learning for all of us. No other generation in history has had so much access to so much information and social media as we have and continue to have. The same goes for our kids. But what does this all mean for us as parents during this age? It means we must first educate ourselves about technology, social media, and screens before we can educate our kids about these platforms. We must be aware of how each can be used as a tool and how we may get sucked into using each for longer than desired. We need to be aware of why and for what purpose we intend to use certain platforms, and only use as much technology as needed to fulfill those needs.
We must be mindful of our own technology and screen use, particularly if we want to be good models of what healthy use looks like for our kids. We want our kids to be able to use these innovations and remain in good mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical health. This means that before putting a device in our kids’ hands, they must understand that the online world is very much like the real world, there’s lots of opportunities for learning and fun, and at the same time, there are dark places and unsavory individuals floating around waiting for their next, unsuspecting victim! Just as it’s our job to prepare our kids for the real world, we must also prepare them for the online world. This means many conversations about the benefits and potential pitfalls of technology use.
Healthy screen use
Healthy screen and device use will be defined and depend largely on each family. However, it’s important to acknowledge that there are certain practices that can help foster real-life connection and happiness.
Avoid screen use before bedtime
If possible, have dinner as a family without screens or phones, and enjoy healthy conversation with each other
When kids first come home from school or after-school activities, make it a point to check in with them and AVOID using devices (either us or the kids!). They need to know we missed them, we love them, and we value their company.
Develop and enforce strict rules about device use, and be clear about what the purpose of using devices or platforms is
Try to have device use limited to shared spaces of the house (i.e. the living room, den, kitchen as opposed to bedroom or bathroom use)
Parents should ideally monitor technology use either digitally (i.e. with software) or in-person (i.e. over the shoulder/random checks in-person), and preferably using both methods
Make it a point to connect with each other over real life activities that DO NOT involve screens
Use the limits that can be set per device or per person (depending on the platform) to limit screen time, what apps are accessible to children and for how long
We must model appropriate behavior. If we want our kids to be less attached to devices, we need to demonstrate what that looks like with our behavior first!
Be OK with being different. If our kids come up with their friend’s parents let their kids have a phone, be on a certain social network, etc. we need to know and to be clear and OK with why we don’t want that for our kids or for our family. It might be worth having a conversation with our kids’ friends’ parents too, if we want our limits to be respected.
Industry insider’s limit their kids technology use
Tech giants’ CEOs don’t let their kids use or severely limit the use of technology – the SAME technology their companies develop and push consumers (i.e. us) to use! It might surprise most to learn that Steve Jobs and Bill Gates were low tech dads. In fact, this holds true across the board from the current CEOs and founders of Facebook, SnapChat, Reddit, Google, and of course, for Apple and Microsoft: They all have spoken about how they limit, plan to limit, or don’t allow their kids to use much technology or social media (in the case of the current CEO of Apple, Tim Cook — he doesn’t have any kids but advocates kids spend LESS time on screens than most currently do). In fact, the schools that many of these CEOs and other Silicon Valley parents send their kids to are designed to be intentionally low-tech.
Because these insiders are likely more aware than most of the addictive qualities that their products (FYI: they are designed to be addictive) and how damaging this can be to our kids’ developing brains. They also know that creativity, happiness, and a balanced life come from real social connections to others and how increased use of devices and screens is associated with less happiness and less creativity.
This is the most compelling argument for why we too should limit or restrict our kids’ access to devices. We should also reconsider or outright delay buying our kids their own devices – whether it be a smartphone, tablet, or computer. Kids in the US now get a smartphone, on average, by the time they’re 10 years old. Bill Gates didn’t allow his kids to get a phone until age 14 (and that too, with strict limitations on what could be accessed!). Additionally, Steve Jobs didn’t allow his kids to use the iPad. In an interview a bit after the launch of the revolutionary product, Jobs admitted that, “They haven’t used it… We limit how much technology our kids use at home.” For reference, at the time of the interview, Jobs’ kids (from his second marriage) were probably aged 19, 15, and 12.
Wrapping it up
There is no doubt that technology is the future and we need to help our kids navigate online spaces safely. At the same time, it doesn’t seem like there are overall benefits for our kids being exposed to technology or social media platforms at earlier and earlier ages, as is the current trend, and nor are there clear benefits from their early use. In fact, most research paints a bleak picture of diminished social skills, mental health issues, and overall unhappiness and loneliness, despite spending more time communicating with friends and being “in-touch” with the world.
Perhaps, what we and what our kids need is time to pause, reflect on our experiences and life, and connect more with those who are physically around us (and of course, to Guru Sahib Jee!) to really feel connected and whole. Not all technology is bad, but technology is very powerful and we must be mindful of how we use it and how our kids use it, in order to practice safe use.