When Steve Jobs was asked what his three young children thought of the iPad, the reply came as something of a shock. “They haven’t used it,” he said, as boss of Apple in 2010, shortly after the device’s launch. “We limit how much technology our kids use at home.”
In a world where toddlers can work touch screens before they can tie their shoelaces, you might have expected the Jobs offspring to be the ultimate digital natives. Yet it seems that the tycoons of Silicon Valley strictly limit how their children use their products, wary of the risks of online bullying, pornography, and what hours of iPad use might do to a developing mind. In the homes of tech moguls, screens are banned from bedrooms, according to Nick Bilton, a technology writer who recalled his conversation with Jobs in an article this week for The New York Times.
In these executive households, children under 10 are often limited to between 30 minutes and two hours of iPad use over the weekend, while 10 to 14-year-olds are allowed to use computers on school nights only for homework. Teenagers are often banned from using social networks, except for those such as Snapchat, which promise greater privacy.
Evan Williams, one of the founders of Twitter, does not allow his two young sons to use iPads or iPhones. Like him, they are shy and he is said to fear that hours of screen time will heighten that trait. So instead, every evening, the family reads books together on the sofa.
Randi Zuckerberg, older sister of Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook tycoon, credits her brother’s success, in part, to the hours they spent playing computer games as youngsters, but this year she published Dot, a storybook for children. Its message? That they should spend more time outside and less time perched in front of a tablet.
For parents, the digital world can be a confusing place. In 2012, about half of children aged 6 to 12 asked for an iPad for Christmas, a survey found. When they are confronted by a book, it is not unusual to see a toddler try to swipe it with a sticky finger, only to be disappointed when it doesn’t spring to life as an iPad would.
The American Academy of Pediatrics discourages parents of very young children from allowing them to watch anything on a screen. However, the advice does not cover the kind of interactive iPad apps small children often find engaging, and which parents might think are educational.
Technology has not made parenting easier, according to the American author Hanna Rosin. “Parents want their children to swim expertly in the digital stream that they will have to navigate all their lives,” she said in The Atlantic magazine. “On the other hand, they fear that too much digital media, too early, will sink them.”