5 Ways Tech Execs Limit Their Kids’ Digital Lives

4 Mins read

While technology has proven to be a powerful tool, its users can get too much of a good thing. Children, in particular, must be mature enough to handle the responsibilities of a kids phone and be taught to use electronic devices appropriately. The negative effects of excessive technology use are now so well documented that many tech innovators closely monitor the digital lives of their kids.

Here are five ways that knowledgeable industry execs intentionally limit technology in the lives of their children. Concerned parents can easily adapt all of them to suit their own homes and lifestyles.

1. Create Tech-Free Zones

As a parent, you might be tempted to react to internet dangers by eliminating technology from your home, but that’s not the answer. Fear gets in the way of good decision-making, and treating the internet like forbidden fruit only intensifies a child’s curiosity.

Technology is a powerful and useful tool, something your children should learn to navigate. That said, kids also need to learn how to effectively communicate in person. Establishing tech-free zones in your home helps ensure that your kids take a break from their devices every once in a while.

The late Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple, removed all technology from his family’s dinner table. His goal was to make dinner a time when the family could discuss books and history without being distracted by their devices.

The only problem with tech-free zones is that everyone has to participate. If your children aren’t using their phones at dinner, then neither should the adults. Set a good example or you can expect your kids to question the seriousness of your commitment.

2. Banish Social Media

Apple CEO Tim Cook doesn’t have children, but he’s very clear on how he would raise kids if he did. According to Cook, he wouldn’t allow children on any social media network.

In recent years, the use of social media has risen dramatically. A GlobalWebIndex report found that users aged 16-24 spend an average of roughly three hours on social media a day. That’s a problem. Research has clearly shown social media to be an addictive form of screen entertainment. JAMA Psychiatry found that adolescents who use social media excessively may be at higher risk for mental health issues.

Tackle the social media problem head on. Forbid the use of any social media platform before you even agree to purchase a phone for a younger child.

If the time comes to add a platform or two as your child matures, move slowly. Make sure your kids agree up front that you will be monitoring their usage. Set clear expectations and don’t neglect to explain the negative impact social media can have on mental health.

One important rule of thumb is to insist that kids never say anything online they would not say in person. It’s important that they know there is no such thing as a private online message. Children also need to realize that not everyone is who they appear to be. They should only communicate with people they know IRL (“in real life”).

3. Limit Young Children’s Screen Time

A study published in JAMA Pediatrics evaluated MRI scans of preschoolers’ brains. Researchers found that three- to five-year-olds who used screens for more than an hour a day had lower levels of brain matter. You know — that stuff that supports language and cognitive development. Though it’s widely accepted that technology can be harmful to mental health, we are just learning that it can also have a lasting physical impact.

If you have children, limit their exposure to technology when they’re young. Whether that’s video chatting, watching TV, or playing on an iPad, kids shouldn’t be too familiar with devices. Reddit co-founder Alex Ohanian’s daughter is three years old now, but he and wife Serena Williams intend to limit her screen time as she grows up.

4. Set a Schedule

As with any activity, children need to be given limits. Kids aged 8-18 spend more than seven hours a day looking at tech devices, which experts, such as the American Heart Association, say is far too much. Creating an agreed-upon tech schedule is a good way to reduce your kid’s screen time. Making sure they don’t become too reliant on technology will give kids more time to engage in heart-healthy exercise.

Snapchat co-founder Evan Spiegel restricts his stepson to one and half hours of screen time per week. Microsoft founder Bill Gates has said he limited how much screen time his children got before bed. His reasoning? The light emitted by electronic devices can suppress melatonin, a sleep-inducing hormone. He was more concerned that his kids get a good night’s rest than keep up with their friends, some of whom were texting way past bedtime.

There’s no hard-and-fast rule for how many hours a child, or anyone, should spend using technology. A child who’s receiving remote instruction, for example, will certainly need to be online a lot more than a sibling who attends school in person.

Before creating a tech schedule, take some time to figure out where the problems are. Are your kids’ grades suffering because they spend more time texting than studying? If so, you could limit phone time to 30 minutes per day. Factory-installed parental controls on technology are your friends: get to know them better.

5. Make Your Kid’s Earn Their Tech Time

Have you ever rewarded your kids for good grades with ice cream? There’s nothing wrong with occasionally incentivizing good behavior, and additional tech time can be used in a similar fashion. When tech founder Mark Cuban’s children read for an hour, for example, he would reward them with two hours of streaming entertainment.

Your family could adopt a similar reward system in your home. Your kids could earn computer time for improving their math grade, say, or an hour of FaceTime for completing chores without complaint. Be creative with your reward system, but re-evaluate periodically to make sure you aren’t doing more harm than good. You don’t want your kids to form an unhealthy attachment to technology by making tech the only reward they receive.

The career success of well-known industry leaders might tempt you to think they endorse a lifestyle constantly saturated with tech. Some do, of course, but most have seen firsthand the negative effects and deliberately backed off in their personal life. These tech titans have begun limiting the amount of screen time they allow their children, and with these five tips, you can follow their lead.

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