Hey Mark Cuban, Brute Force Doesn’t Work With Kids

Photo by Jeff Kravitz

Mark Cuban, best known as the star of ABC’s hit show, “Shark Tank,” regularly hears pitches from tech companies, is no stranger to technology.

He also sold his tech startup Broadcast.com to Yahoo for $5.7 billion, which made him an extremely wealthy man and a household name.

So, I don’t have a whole lot to tell Mark about spinning gold from tech. But just like me, Mark is the father of three young kids who are pretty much obsessed with their phones, computers, games, and videos.

In a recent podcast interview with Arianna Huffington, he revealed that he struggles with regulating his kids’ use of technology.

As the co-founder and CEO of unGlue and a father of three myself, I feel somewhat qualified to give Mark some advice here…

Kids will find a way around your tech restrictions

No matter how you try to restrict your kids’ viewing habits, they’ll find a workaround. Unlike their parents, kids today are digital natives and they are super comfortable with technology. They know how to get around parental controls. Mark found this out when he tried to make his 13-year-old daughter, Alexis, “earn” time to watch Netflix. She simply got another Netflix password from a friend.

As I wrote in this post, I believe the whole concept of parental controls might be one of the biggest parenting fails of all time. Why? Because good parenting is about teaching your kids to think on their own, guiding them to make the right decisions instead of forcing rules on them without them being involved. Parental controls might temporarily stop the supply of screen time, but it does nothing to reduce the demand for it. In other words, it doesn’t teach your kids to watch less Netflix; it just forces them to find a way around your attempt to control the access.

Monitoring their online activity will backfire

I’m as sneaky as can be, and she hates it” said Mark about his daughter’s reaction to him installing his own fancy Cisco routers and management software to shut off his kids’ phone activity. He should have read my post on “Why You Should Never Cybersnoop on Your Kids” and “7 Parenting Rules That Drive Kids Crazy (And Solve Nothing).” Even if it prevents them from accessing certain apps or mindlessly playing games for hours and hours, monitoring their activity comes at a cost. It creates a relationship of mistrust with your kids, and it’s a terrible way to teach them to manage their own time. Besides, spending hours looking through your kids’ social media feeds and chats is unlikely to be helpful, although it’s a sure way to put you to sleep…

No amount of cyber monitoring is going to help your kids in the long run. In fact, that strategy is more likely to backfire as they try harder to hide their screen time or, even worse, risky online activity. More importantly, it creates a false sense of security for parents. Cyber-snooping doesn’t and shouldn’t replace having a genuine, honest relationship with your children where they feel comfortable coming to you when they experience something inappropriate online.

Cash doesn’t really motivate kids to stay off screens

Mark admits to paying his son $150 (!) to stop watching Minecraft videos for two months. The cash bribe doesn’t seem to have worked in the long run. Truth be told, this generation of kids would rather spend time on their phones than spend money on things they really don’t want anyway. For them, no toy is more fun than a smartphone.

At unGlue, we’ve found that kids are highly motivated by the prospect of getting more screen time.

To take advantage of this tendency, we’ve built features such as Time Bank that allow them to earn, spend, and save their screen time minutes almost like cash. This encourages them to be more thoughtful about how they’re “spending” their screen time, so mindlessly watching another YouTube video suddenly doesn’t have the same appeal.

What Mark did right was allow his son to earn time on Minecraft videos by watching math videos or doing math problems. At unGlue, we’ve created a feature that allows kids to earn more Internet time by doing chores. Kids love it as they can get more of the thing they want most — screen time. Parents love it because the first time in a long time, kids are helping around the house.

Trust me, these kinds of habit builders are a lot more effective than throwing money at your kids. Even if you can spare $150.

There’s no easy solution to screen time balance

Mark says one of the hardest things is trying to get his kids to engage with information outside of what’s on Snapchat or other apps on their phones. Reading an actual newspaper, for example.

We created unGlue precisely for this reason. Not to get more kids to the newspaper necessarily, but to encourage parents and kids to work together toward a realistic screen-time solution that they can both agree on. There’s no app for good parenting, but at least there’s a good app for creating a healthier relationship with tech.

Bottom line

The biggest lesson here is that brute force approach on turning off your kids’ devices and Internet doesn’t work. It doesn’t work when you try to force them to eat their veggies or play sports or play an instrument. It certainly doesn’t work with technology which, whether we like it or not, is an inseparable part of our kids’ life.

What does work is giving them the tools to self-regulate and to adopt healthy habits on their own. We, the parents, still play an important role by defining the limits. But self empowerment is the only sustainable solution to any parenting problem.

By Alon Shwartz, 
CEO & Co-founder of unGlue and a father of three
unGlue is the world’s first collaborative technology that empowers people to manage their digital distraction and screen “addiction”

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