Tech & Media
Silicon Valley Parents and Industry Giants are Banning Tech from Their Kids — But Could I Do That?
By Chantal Saville
Photo © keeyoni/Twenty20
Nov 20, 2018
Our conversations about getting a phone started when I ditched the land line and I taught my almost 10-year-old daughter how to use my cell phone, in case she ever needed to make an emergency call and I wasn’t able to. Like if I was on the floor, passed out or having a heart attack. I stressed that these would be — more or less — the only times it would be necessary for her to use my phone. Nonetheless, it only took a few minutes for her to make the leap to: "But when can I have my own phone?"
I recently read an article about Silicon Valley parents banning tech from their kids. Further down the rabbit hole, you'll learn nannies are being asked to sign no-phone contracts. The very people creating all these apps and tools, platforms and networks were telling their kids that they couldn’t use them because of concerns over how the early use of tech affects brain development and mental health.
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The article mentioned that some of of the biggest names in the industry were known to have seriously limited tech in their homes. Steve Jobs was a low-tech parent who didn't let his kids use iPads, Apple's Tim Cook doesn't want his nephew using social media, Bill Gates didn't let his kids use a phone until they were 14 and Melinda Gates wishes she "waited longer for putting a computer in [her] children's pocket." If these technological phenoms thought it was bad for their kids, shouldn’t I think the same way?
Well, if I thought like they did, I’d be rich. So I decided to think like me. I came to the conclusion that the answer lay in looking at our situation and lifestyle. I needed to decide what my comfort level was with my daughter having access to a phone and why I would want her to have (or not have it).
I asked around and some people said “never!” but that answer didn’t really sit well. We’re not getting the lid back on the Pandora’s box of kids and tech, so never isn’t realistic. “When they can pay for it themselves!” was another answer I heard from friends. That’s perfectly reasonable but my 10-year-old can’t get a job, so it might not be entirely fair.
My daughter, of course, had her own lists of reasons for needing a phone: "But my friends have phones;" "I'll be safer walking home from school;" "I can text my friends to tell them I'm going to be late to meet them. That's just responsible, right?"
But I decided that, for the time being, she didn’t need a phone. If she happened to be home alone for five minutes — a relatively unlikely occurrence — she could FaceTime me from her iPod Touch, as long as she remained in the house and on WiFi. I wasn't banning tech, but I wasn't offering complete tech independence either.
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I'm not Bill or Melinda Gates, Steve Jobs or Tim Cook. I'm not an app developer in Silicon Valley with a no-phone contract nanny. I'm just a parent like you who has a kid who wants a phone.
So, here are some questions I asked myself to see if it’s time to allow my child to have a mobile phone, which may be useful to you:
- Why do I want my child to have it? Is it for their security or so they can have more freedom after school and I can feel safe with that?
- Do they need it because we don’t have a home phone?
- Do they have access to other tech and don’t really need a phone?
- Are they responsible enough to manage using it according to the rules you set out (more or less)?
Bottom line: is it convenience or security that is motivating your decision? Yes, it’s convenient to be able to reach them any time, but is it necessary to ensure their safety or are there other ways you can manage that?
Former Wired editor, current father of five kids and now chief executive of a robotics and drone company told the New York Times he has 12 tech rules. He noted they include, "no phones until the summer before high school, no screens in bedrooms, network-level content blocking, no social media until age 13, no iPads at all and screen time schedules enforced by Google Wifi that he controls from his phone." On screens, he remarked, "on the scale between candy and crack cocaine, it’s closer to crack cocaine." There's some worry that the creators have created something to worry about, and now the creators are taking many precautions to somehow curtail any negative effects.
But as a single parent could I do all that?
At my house, the persistent whine that started all of this has dulled to a low level hum, as kiddo’s current tech satisfies her greater needs: playing Animal Jam and watching YouTube videos.
Right now, tech is not a problem for us. Maybe it will be or maybe it won't. Right now my decision to keep control over tech — but not completely banning it — feels like the right one.