Bill Gates and Steve Jobs Limited Screen Time for Their Children, Here’s Why

Thursday, March 15, 2018
Fatou Darboe
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Image credit: The New York Times

Bill Gates is the richest man in the world because of technology. So it makes sense that he would want his children to derive the same benefits from technology that he has.

However, the Microsoft founder barred his kids from using technology till they reached a certain age.

And he is not the only tech guru to have done so. Steve Jobs did the same.

And many tech executives in Silicon Valley implement similar tech restrictions with their children and enroll them in schools that expose them to little to no technology.

Although some may find that a tad bit hypocritical, Gates, Jobs and other tech executives are not the stupidest people in the world and they no doubt weighed the pros and cons of that decision.

They must know something we don’t.

In Screen Schooled; Two Veteran Teachers Expose How Technology Overuse is Making Our Kids Dumber, authors Joe Clement and Matt Miles ask why two of the biggest tech entrepreneurs didn’t allow their children to use the devices they created.

They wondered, “what is it these wealthy tech executives know about their own products that their consumers don’t?”

Let’s find out.

The Children of Tech Executives Have Limited Screen Time

Tech entrepreneurs, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, restricted their children from using the same tech gadgets they created.

It is actually quite well known (at least in the tech industry) that these two tech moguls didn’t allow their children to own smartphones till they reached a specific age.

In April of last year, Bill Gates told The Mirror newspaper that he doesn’t allow his kids (then aged 14, 17 and 20) to use gadgets during meal times and didn’t allow them to have smartphones till they were 14 years old.


Image credit: The Mirror UK

The main reason he had those rules in place was because he was worried about decreasing their quality of sleep and disrupting their sleep cycles.

"We often set a time after which there is no screen time and in their case that helps them get to sleep at a reasonable hour," Gates told the paper. "You're always looking at how it can be used in a great way - homework and staying in touch with friends - and also where it has gotten to excess."

Steve Jobs had a similar outlook.


Image credit: The Telegraph

Jobs, in a 2014 interview with Nick Bilton from the New York Times, was casually asked whether his kids liked the new iPad of that year. He responded, “they haven't used it. We limit how much technology our kids use at home."

Huh? Interesting...

Bilton was also intrigued. He started digging into restrictions that other tech gurus implemented, at home, with their children, and was surprised by how common, across the board, that policy was among the most well-known tech gurus.

Tim Cook, in January of this year, said that he did not want his 12-year-old nephew to use social media.

Sean Parker, billionaire and early Facebook investor, said that he and creators of Facebook made it as addictive as possible on purpose. He said, “God only know what it’s doing to our children’s brains.”

These tech gurus do seem quite paranoid about the impact of technology on their children. So much so that they even send their kids to schools that encourage little to no technology use.

The Children of Tech Executives ALSO Attend Schools that Integrate Little to No Technology in Classrooms

Raising tech-savvy kids can be a point of pride for any parent in this highly digital age, but there are adverse effects to exposing such young minds to information technology when they are not ready to learn, or responsibly and cautiously embrace it yet.

And tech executives seem to understand that way better than we do.

To the point where they send their children to schools like The Waldorf School of the Peninsula.

The school is a small and exclusive $25,000-a-year private elementary school that is packed with kids of Silicon Valley execs who like the role that technology plays in education there. That is because technology plays absolutely no role there.

All schools in the Waldorf association use the century-old teachings of philosopher Rudolf Steiner.

Steiner was an Austrian philosopher and occultist who believed in karma and reincarnation. He started a school in Stuttgart, Germany in 1919 in a move to improve and revolutionize the education system.

His educational approach was derived from the use of imagination, creativity and practical learning, with spirituality embedded in all the subjects (even math and science). He included elements of dance and physical expression to help students with their personal and spiritual development.

He also thought that analytical thinking and academic learning were unsuitable and perhaps even detrimental to the minds and development of younger children.

There are more than 1,000 Steiner schools in over 60 countries today, making it one of the biggest independent school systems in the world.

Many of the schools in California are, not surprisingly located in the Bay Area technology hub in San Francisco and Silicon Valley.

So what do the children of tech moguls learn at school?

Children at the Waldorf school in Los Altos, California school learn to explore their world via physical experiences and tasks that are specifically designed to nurture and enhance their imagination, interpersonal skills and problem-solving abilities. Just like Steiner would have wanted.

Pencils, paper, blackboard and arts & craft materials replace tablets, smartphones and any other electronic devices until they are teenagers studying at the middle and high school campuses.

Even in the middle and high schools, technology is introduced gradually and the use of it is quite limited.

Leader of Outreach and Development at the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America (an association with 130 schools in the U.S.), Beverly Amico, said that the attention to experiential learning means that 13-year-olds studying the Renaissance at a Waldorf school might, “in addition to learning stories about the history, reproduce a Renaissance masterpiece.

Eighth-graders [14-year-olds] all do a Shakespeare play. Our high school science pupils do blacksmithing with a 1,500 degree forge to learn about chemistry and heat energy.”

Amico says that that philosophy and way of teaching is “a very attractive option for people in the tech world for their children. All employers, tech world or not, are looking for graduates these days that can think independently, take initiative, are capable of collaborating, have curiosity and creativity.”

Current students at the school include Alan Eagle’s (a communications director at Google who helped to write the book, How Google Works) daughter. The kids of eBay chief technology officer and senior execs at Apple and Yahoo also attend the school.

Waldorf’s teaching approach is very different to the new teaching philosophies in most American schools, where the focus is more on bringing technology to the classroom.

However, there is a new movement that is pushing against the use of technology in the classroom. People in the new movement cite multiple research reports on the harmful effects of smartphones on young brains and are putting new shareholder pressure on the tech companies that build them.


Image credit: Business Insider

Let’s take a look at why tech leaders are concerned about technology as it impacts children, before looking at the research on the dangers of technology on young minds.

What are They (Tech Leaders) so Concerned About?

Well, the same thing you worry about when you see your child staring at a screen, completely hypnotized.  Perhaps you’re worried about exposure to inappropriate or adult content, cyberbullying, and the danger of addiction.

So the strict rules that these tech entrepreneurs put in place in their homes isn’t alarming when you consider that a lot of parents are also driven to restrict their children’s screen time based on the aforementioned fears.

But what is alarming is the degree of that fear. Jobs and Gates arguably seemed paranoid.

However, when you think about it, those are the two people who best understand how our devices work and how harmful they can be. Especially to young developing minds.

They certainly have a better understanding of the risks of their technology than we do.

So which risks are they concerned about? Could it be the risk of microwave exposure? Their R&D people surely informed them well enough about that, as part of the risk assessment strategies for their products.

Especially in Steve Job’s case.


Image credit: Business Insider

It is well known that Steve Jobs refused to support a gadget that could reveal a level of microwave exposure from a certain iPhone.

However, both Jobs and Gates have never publicly spoken on the microwave radiation risks of their products, which they do allow their children to use when they reach adolescence.

No, they probably restrict technology use in their households because of the high risks that easy access to the uncontrolled online world via wireless devices poses to a sensitive child’s brain. The host of problems include possible addiction to social media, depression and exposure to adult content.

The Current State of Things

Young people and technology go hand in hand. It has been that way since the dawn of technology.

Remember when the first iPhone hit the market? Were you one of those teenagers or 20-somethings who lined up around the block to get the new device?

Technology and young people are even more glued together today. Our children even help social media giants with their product development. Think Snapchat.

Snapchat made a decision to navigate the social media landscape on its own, but it was the younger demographic that kept them going. Simply because young people have always laid the solid foundation on which technology is built.

They provide all the market research and buying power that emerging companies need to enter and gain a foothold in the market.

Furthermore, young people of today are using technology much earlier than either you or I did. This generation is so immersed in technology that the problems it brings could make growing up a lot harder.

The American Academy of Pediatrics reported, in an April 2015 conference, that among American children below one years old, 36 percent have touched a smartphone screen and 52 percent have watched TV on a wireless device.

Studies show that 85 percent of parents allow their children to use technology in the home and children below the age of 9 spend an average of two hours a day staring at a screen. With those usage stats, it is highly important for parents to fully comprehend the effects of technology on kids.

But how is technology affecting the young demographic?

The Effects of Technology on Children

Image credit: Thrive Global

So many of us are glued to our smartphones and screens these days. So much so that it is incredibly easy for us to bypass a kid getting their own phone and getting on social media.

But while we (adults) are on different platforms and use various social media sites quite casually and with very little thought, that freedom to navigate the net is very dangerous when given to kids.

There are many psychological, health, financial and future consequences to worry about when kids turn to social media or screens. That issue affects parents and anyone with an online site for young users.

A majority of social media platforms like Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter and Instagram have put in strict measures to prevent those below 13 years of age from signing up on their platforms.

They put up those measures in accordance with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act which regulates how companies interact with children online.

It especially has guidelines in place that bar the collection of data from children under the age of 13 without parental permission.

However, some minors may pass themselves off as adults on sign-up forms, which puts them in front of certain risks that parents and site owners should be asking about.

There is no doubt that technology is affecting today’s kids. But what are the exact effects of smartphones, social media and selfies?

Here are a few of the well-known and well-research health effects of technology use on children.

Technology, Particularly Social Media, is Addictive

Health experts have found that social media is addictive.

A review study conducted by Nottingham Trent University took a close and deep look at social media use, personality and psychological characteristics.

They found that (some) people who use social media constantly and excessively are more likely to put their personal lives on the back burner. Those people usually live in denial as they try to mask their addiction.

Social Media is Linked to Depression and Social Isolation

Technology exists to make our lives easier. However, the link between depression and technology, screen time in particular, has been well studied in adults.

It makes dealing with depression a lot harder to those who are genetically prone to it or just have a long history of clinical depression.

Technology has also been linked to depression in young people.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention reported that suicide rates in people between 15 to 24 years of age have risen by 31.5 percent since 2008, the year the first smartphone was born.

Since 2012, there has been a steady rise in anxiety and depression among high school students, regardless of whether or not they live in urban or rural areas.

The Association for Psychological Science found that teenagers that use electronic devices for more than 3 hours a day were 34 percent more likely to experience one suicide-related outcome than those who use electronic devices less than 2 hours a day.

They also found that adolescents who used social media everyday were 13 percent more likely to have depressive symptoms that those who used it less often.

The Department of Health and Human Services reported, in 2015, that three million teenagers (between the ages of 12 and 17) had at least one major episode of depression in 2015. Girls were found to be at higher risk than boys.

Studies have also found that increased social media use could lead to less happiness and an overall frustration with life. And that could lead to depression.

Social media has also been found to cause feelings of social isolation. A research team paid attention to the extent to which adults used 11 social media sites and it turned out that people who spent more time on those sites experienced more social isolation.

We’ll stop there at the risk of going on and on about the link between technology use and depression in children. You get the gist!

It Could Make Kids Narcissistic

Technology should boost self-esteem in kids but instead appears to cultivate self-interest. Indeed, narcissism is quite hard to avoid in the social media realm. Likes, shares and selfies dominate in that world.

A study, published in a book, The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement showed that narcissism scores of those born in the 2000s were much higher than those born in the 80s and 90s. And technology seems to be the one to blame.

So, why has it taken us so long to catch on to the effects of technology on our children?

As Joe Clement says, “it seems like the US is the last place in the world to catch on that this is something that might be bad for kids.

“A lot of people are saying at the very least let’s pump the breaks before we turn our kids’ brains over to Apple, Microsoft, Google and HP.”

Clement says that he was shocked by the bottomward standards in his classroom in the past decade or so. He said he observed “a significant difference in the ability of kids to focus, to interact socially, to think critically, to solve problems. They have all taken a noticeable dive over the past five to ten years.”

He shared his shock and perhaps more apt, frustration, with Matt Miles in the lunch canteen.

The two then began to deeply research the issue. They found that a great body of research and consensus on the damage inflicted on children who are constantly exposed to screens.

They also found that most schools ignored that body of research in their pursuit to heavily invest in tablets and other learning technology.

They decided to publish their research investigation in a book, In Screen Schooled; Two Veteran Teachers Expose How Technology Overuse is Making Our Kids Dumber. The book also draws on their personal teaching experience, interviews with other educators, parents and neuroscientists.

Clement said that he was also motivated by parents and groups that are concerned about the march of Ed-tech: “They have said we need to link up and start to mobilize together. That gives me a little bit of hope that maybe this thing has got legs.”

What Can You Do as a Parent?

Monitoring your children on the playground is not difficult, but monitoring their online behavior is not easy at all, especially when your child is better at using tech than you are. And let’s be honest, they are.

Although there is general concern among parents about their children’s use of technology, not many of them think that an outright ban would be practical.

Because technology is influencing every aspect of our lives, banning kids completely would be quite unwise as it would prevent them from adapting to our technology-driven and operated future.

However, parents can limit screen time at home and at school, as tech entrepreneurs have shown us.

A survey of parents and educators in Silicon Valley found that many of them are wary of the effects of technology on kids, especially those from kindergarten to third grade.

Banning smartphones, social media and other new media from their homes may be a radical move by tech executives. However, they are more informed on the subject than most of us. So perhaps it won’t hurt to take a page out of their book?

The Guardian published an article on the limits that tech gurus have set in their households. Perhaps it's time you implement those in your home as well.

Some of the restrictions include:

  • No smartphones until kids turn 14

  • Banning devices at dinner time

  • A limit should be set on screen time during the school week (or banning it entirely for younger children)

  • A device curfew should be set for kids to switch off their devices before bedtime

  • Ban devices in the bedroom

  • Restrict the social media platforms your children use

Those restrictions could also apply to you as well.

Wrapping Up

Sure, not all 13-year-olds should be barred from the internet or social media because of their age. Children mature at different rates and in different ways. So perhaps parents should consider a few things.

For example, if your child has a short attention-span, or you have a hard time putting them to bed, or they have trouble in school because of poor focus; then you should probably limit their use of technology.

Perhaps all parents need to allow their children to be well-adjusted teens before they introduce smartphones or computers (for leisure use) into the picture.

Without a doubt, we all have our difference in opinion on this matter.

So which side do you fall on? The side of tech leaders who care about their kids’ technology use or the other team that gives their children access to any technology that would appease them or keep parents sane?

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