We’ve all thought about what it would be like to have a teacher or dentist for a parent: horrible. We’ve also thought about having a parent who works in tech: brilliant! As it turns out, many parents who work in a tech related field actually work harder to keep their kids away from technology, including Steve Jobs who didn’t let his 12 or 15 year old have an iPad when they first came out onto the market.
It isn’t just at home, either. Many parents send their children to a Waldorf School which has even less technology than yours; they learn fractions with food, math and problem solving with knitting and look up everything else in encyclopedias until they’re allowed limited gadget use in the eighth grade. There’s no secret texting under the desk in that school.
Why did he do it?
He did it for the same reason all parents do: so that his children would learn to be independent of screens and wouldn’t make the mistake of sharing information that they shouldn’t be sharing, or posting things that a future employer - or admissions officer - might discover and disapprove of. All parents are aware of the dangers, and Steve Jobs was one who had probably even witnessed it.
“My kids accuse me and my wife of being fascists and overly concerned about tech, and they say that none of their friends have the same rules. That’s because we have seen the dangers of technology firsthand. I’ve seen it in myself, I don’t want to see that happen to my kids.” - Chris Anderson, chief executive of 3D Robotics
It’s not as extreme as it sounds
They do acknowledge that a computer is needed when kids get to a certain grade at school - even the Waldorf allows "limited use". They also know that under 10s are the most at risk. This is the age scale they use:
- Children under 10 don’t have access to gadgets during the week. (Facebook has an under-13 rule anyway.) On weekends, there’s a 30 minute to two hour allowance.
- 10-14 year olds are allowed to use computers on school nights, but only for homework. No screens in the bedroom.
Ali Partovi, founder of iLike and adviser to Facebook, Dropbox and Zappos, thinks an outright ban is too strict, and allows his daughter unlimited time - as long as she’s being productive.
“Just as I wouldn’t dream of limiting how much time a kid can spend with her paintbrushes, or playing her piano, or writing, I think it’s absurd to limit her time spent creating computer art, editing video, or computer programming.”
Is it hypocritical?
They’re in the business of making devices that they know are addictive. They know they’re being bought for children, or that your own addiction will mean that your child will later ask for one and probably get it. So is it hypocritical of them to ban their own children from using them? Consider two things before you answer:
- If you worked in the tobacco, drug or drink industry, you wouldn’t give your products to your kids either, would you?
- The product isn’t the problem. It might be easier to hand them an iPad, but consider how much more grateful they’ll be (eventually) when they can boast a good number of close friends rather than that time they gained the highest ever score in a game.
Steve Jobs didn’t and neither should you
No technology during the week might sound crazy to you, but if asking them to put their devices away long enough to enjoy a family dinner is too much, then you have a problem.
Every evening Steve made a point of having dinner at the big long table in their kitchen, discussing books and history and a variety of things. No one ever pulled out an iPad or computer.
If you do choose to give your child an iPad and not restrict its use, then at least make sure they remain capable of putting it down if you ask them to - and if they can’t, remember that it could be bullying rather than a fascinating game. Even better, practice what you preach and limit your own use so they have no "but you do it!" argument. Bear in mind, however, that going too far can backfire: Twitter’s chief executive, Dick Costolo, met someone at university who had cases and cases of soda in his dorm room. The reason? His parents had never let him have soda and he was making up for lost time.
See also: 10 Steve Jobs Quotes to Inspire You
You turned out just fine without logging hundreds of hours on Candy Crush, didn’t you? Do you really think times have changed to the point that your child will be irreversibly left behind without the latest gadget and unlimited time on it, or do you only allow them in moderation? Let us know your philosophy!