That’s right – this oft-quoted statement used to mock millennials with their faces in their iPhones, was not actually uttered by the greatest mind of all time. Or by anyone, for that matter.
But still, there’s definitely something to the sentiment, especially now we’ve learnt that the greatest tech minds of the last twenty years, Bill Gates (Microsoft co-founder) and Steve Jobs (Apple c0-founder), denied their kids the diet of constant devices that billions of other kids around the world are on.
Which is très annoying to know if you co-parent with iPhones/iPads like I do.
Listen: Holly Wainwright and Andrew Daddo argue the importance of buying your kids a ‘dumb’ phone, instead of an iPhone. (Post continues after audio…)
Authors Joe Clement and Matt Miles have published a book Screen Schooled: Two Veteran Teachers Expose How Technology Overuse is Making Our Kids Dumber, pointing out that Gates’ and Jobs’ attitudes to parenting with technology should have been the writing on the wall for all of us as a warning about the dire effects of technological over-exposure on children.
Apparently, as early as 2007, Gates capped screen time when he noticed his daughter becoming attached to a video game. Gates was also strict in his approach to mobile phones, prohibiting them until his kids were fourteen.
Similarly, Jobs told the New York Times in 2011 that he and his wife “limit how much technology our kids use at home,” which was why his own children didn’t use the first iPad when it was released.
It’s not that the tech geniuses rejected technology for children as a learning tool; in fact, that’s where they believed its true value lay. Gates blogged recently, “One approach that I’m excited about is called personalised learning: combining digital tools, project-based learning, and traditional classroom work to let students move at their own pace, which frees up teachers to spend more time with whoever needs more personal attention.”
Obviously, the two men saw the value in society of technological advancement, but were cautious of its use for social reasons in kids. And deep down, most parents know the dangers of overexposure to devices, too. There’s cyber safety to consider. Exposure to inappropriate content. The effects on sleep and lack of physical activity. And then addiction itself – the inability to function in the real world without feeling that something is missing.
And of course, the temper tantrums when a device is taken away. *Shudders*
On the flip side, we have to accept that technology is part of our world – and Gates and Jobs were the key players in making that happen. Both became billionaires because of it. But it seems that both would argue that the rules for children were about over-reliance on technology as entertainment, because that entertainment could be so constantly available that it was no longer a luxury, but an expectation.
Of course, people have for years been talking about the risks of technology overexposure for children, for reasons such as overstimulation, effects on social interaction, and negative behaviour when a device is absent. But many parents have still considered that the good outweighs the bad. As journalist Ben Machell reported earlier this year, “In Australia, the Department of Health recommends that electronic media use for entertainment for kids aged five to 17 be limited to a maximum of two hours per day, with no screen time for under-twos. But that’s easier said than done. Because the soft blue glow and smooth, hard feel of smartphones and tablets have become fixtures of early childhood.”
And that’s where two of the greatest minds of this century, and the greatest user of the line “Don’t forget to charge your iPad so you can bring it to dinner” (a.k.a. me), differ. I much prefer the advice of Dr Andrew Przybylski, who told Machell: “Parenting is essentially a triage process. You need to know where something like, ‘Oh God, screens!’ fits in with, ‘Oh God, traffic!’, or ‘Oh God, finish your breakfast!’”
And as all parents know, that struggle is real.