10 Parenting Tips for the Digital Age

Russ Ewell
May 7, 2016 · 6 min read
“The App Generation” helps us understand the intimate influence technology has on our children”

Silicon Valley is saturated with technology more than any other region on earth. Living here makes me biased, but I think most would concede this truth.

This technological saturation makes people in and connected to Silicon Valley, an interesting group to question about parenting in the Digital Age.

Nick Bilton wrote “Steve Jobs Was a Low-Tech Parent” in September of 2014, expressing surprise at how Technology Chief Executives and Venture Capitalist were raising their kids.

Reviewing this article along with books like “The App Generation,” I created 10 interesting, sometimes contradictory, but nevertheless helpful ideas for parenting in the Digital Age.

1) Limit Technology

Steve Jobs remains the embodiment of Silicon Valley, so if he limited technology, it is difficult to argue against it.

Here is an interesting exchange between he and Nick Bilton.

“So, your kids must love the iPad?” I asked Mr. Jobs, trying to change the subject. The company’s first tablet was just hitting the shelves. “They haven’t used it,” he told me. “We limit how much technology our kids use at home.”

My compelling takeaway, a person creating the technologies that so dominate our lives felt it important to limit their use.

2) School Nights

Since then, I’ve met a number of technology chief executives and venture capitalists who say similar things: they strictly limit their children’s screen time, often banning all gadgets on school nights, and allocating ascetic time limits on weekends.

Parents like me know any reason to avoid homework will be used. Technology can be one of the most attractive procrastination inducing influences on homework completion. Banning gadgets on school nights will certainly leave more time for homework, but will it lead to homework completion or excellence?

3) Fascist and Comparatives

Chris Anderson, the former editor of Wired and now chief executive of 3D Robotics, a drone maker, has instituted time limits and parental controls on every device in his home. “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,” he said of his five children, 6 to 17. “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.”

One of the challenges of placing limits on our children’s technology is parents will be accused of being “fascists,” or some other authoritarian term. Although it seems like cause for celebration, if our kids have the historical depth to properly use the term fascist.

At the same time, there is nothing fun about being called controlling, or having other parents considered superior to ourselves. There is a weariness that sets in when we are constantly told, “none of my friends have these rules,” or this choice comparative, “all of my friends parents have given them iPhones.”

Parenting is not for the insecure or weak minded. We will be called fascist or negatively compared to permissive parents. Nevertheless, we must focus on what is best for our kids in the long term not how we feel in the short term.

4) The Dangers

Despite the obstacles to placing limits on our children’s technology use, the digitally aware know the dangers outweigh the comparisons to other parents.

Nick Bilton paraphrases those dangers being referred to by Chris Anderson.

The dangers he is referring to include exposure to harmful content like pornography, bullying from other kids, and perhaps worse of all, becoming addicted to their devices, just like their parents.

5) Children Under 10

Children under 10 seem to be most susceptible to becoming addicted, so these parents draw the line at not allowing any gadgets during the week. On weekends, there are limits of 30 minutes to two hours on iPad and smartphone use.

There is a compelling case to be made for treating elementary age children differently than those in middle or high school. This probably works great if all your children are under ten, but difficulty will come if there is a range of ages.

Difficult or not, we must realize those in the “app generation” are not merely using the device, but having their identity shaped by them. Writing in “The App Generation,” Howard Gardner and Katie Davis observed an intimate connection between the user and device.

The apps arrayed on a person’s smartphone or tablet represent a fingerprint of sorts — only instead of a unique pattern of ridges, it’s the combination of interests, habits, and social connections that identify that person.

This intimate identification with our devices is something we need to keep in mind, when allowing our children under 10 to have unlimited access. The connection they are making goes beyond technology to personal identity.

6) Making Allowances

“We have a strict no screen time during the week rule for our kids,” said Lesley Gold, founder and chief executive of the SutherlandGold Group, a tech media relations and analytics company. “But you have to make allowances as they get older and need a computer for school.”

Every parent worth the label knows flexibility is an important key to raising children.

There are two reasons to be flexible.

The first is we have to give our children a chance to prove they are responsible, which means trusting them with technology time management.

The second is rules and control rarely teach character, and character is what our children take with them when they leave home. In all we do, we must make certain we are persuading our kids to live wisely, not just controlling behavior.

7) No Screens In The Bedroom

“This is rule No. 1: There are no screens in the bedroom. Period. Ever,” Mr. Anderson said.

There are a number of reasons to keep the bedroom ‘screen’ free, but in my opinion this is unsustainable.

Here are two simple solutions to the bedroom conundrum.

Mobicip: This software provides parental controls for phones, tablets and computers. It also works on iOS or Android, Windows or Mac, Kindle or Nook, and the Chrome OS as well. There are a number of other possibilities, but this one is my favorite, because of the flexibility and depth of control.

Parenting: I know some parents who use technology with their children in their rooms. Whether reading books, listening to music, or playing games, modeling healthy use of technology can be a great deterrent from the dangers.

8) Consuming or Creating

Ali Partovi, a founder of iLike and adviser to Facebook, Dropbox and Zappos, said there should be a strong distinction between time spent “consuming,” like watching YouTube or playing video games, and time spent “creating” on screens.

This advice from Nick Bilton’s article resonated with me. Why would we want to limit our children’s creative time using technology? Partovi supported his position with detailed examples.

“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,” he said.

9) Too Many Limits

Dick Costolo, chief executive of Twitter, told me he and his wife approved of unlimited gadget use as long as their two teenage children were in the living room. They believe that too many time limits could have adverse effects on their children.

There is no question children need technology limits, but there can be too many. The problem with rules is they can end up shaping behavior through control, without having any influence on character.

Reaching the heart and mind of our children is the only way to influence character. We must persuade them to live wisely, so Costolo is right to give his kids guidance and a path to healthy use, instead of hard non-negotiable rules.

10) The Coca-Cola Consequence

We cannot see our children’s future, but we can learn from the past. We can examine our childhood and learn from the impact our parents have had on our character. We can also learn from the experiences of our friends. This allows us to tweak our approaches, so with hope each generation of parents are better than their predecessors.

This is what happened with Mr. Cosolo when he looked back on his college experience.

“When I was at the University of Michigan, there was this guy who lived in the dorm next to me and he had cases and cases of Coca-Cola and other sodas in his room,” Mr. Costolo said. “I later found out that it was because his parents had never let him have soda when he was growing up. If you don’t let your kids have some exposure to this stuff, what problems does it cause later?”

Something we can learn from all of this “Silicon Valley” advice is that parenting is not an algorithm nor is it formulaic. We must pursue balance in everything we do, aiming to shape character rather than control behavior.

Russ Ewell

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Russ Ewell is Founder Hope Technology Group, E-Soccer, and Digital Scribbler Inc. | www.RussEwell.co