This is a story about trying to raise successful kids, worrying about them getting too much screen time, and hearing some surprising advice from an intriguing source.

It starts with Susan Wojcicki, 51, best-known as the CEO of YouTube -- but additionally known as the sister of Anne Wojcicki, the founder of 23andme, and the daughter of Esther Wojcicki, who wrote a book about raising successful kids based on her experience raising her three daughters.

(The third Wojcicki sister, Janet, is described as a Fulbright-winning anthropologist who teaches at the University of California, San Francisco.) 

As head of YouTube, Susan Wojcicki, 51, runs a company where the entire business model involves getting people to watch as many videos as they can, and for as much time as possible, all to maximize ad revenue.

But she's also the mother of five children. And in a series of interviews, she's made clear she worries about their screen time as much as any other parent. For example:

  • 2015: "Being in Silicon Valley makes me strict when it comes to my children's technology use. I am surrounded by it all day, so I try to avoid it when I get home. I set screen-time limits, because I think it's good to diversify activities."
  • 2017: ""We spend as much time as other parents taking their phones away from our kids, saying... 'You need to go outside!' 'No phones at the dinner table!'" 
  • A couple days ago: "I have times when I take away all my kids' phones, especially if we're on a family vacation, because I want people to interact with each other."

Susan talks about her own practice here. However, her mother literally wrote a book that she called How to Raise Successful People about her experience as a parent raising Susan and her sisters.

So I think we're okay to take Susan's repeated descriptions of what she does about screen time -- especially since she's the head of the #1 thing kids do on their phones -- as a pronouncement of what she thinks other parents should do as well.

Also worth mentioning: She puts the age at which she thinks kids should get their first smartphone at 11 years old.

That's actually not too far off from the average age that U.S. kids get their first phone. Although Bill Gates suggested age 14 was more appropriate.

I'm not exactly the first to suggest that limiting kids' screen time will make them happier.

(Well, happier in the the long run, anyway. In the short term, they'll be pretty upset.)

But, we're in the middle of a veritable epidemic of screen overuse among kids, which happens to coincide with a measurable downturn in the degree of happiness that kids report.

One new study last year looked at data from 1 million U.S. teenagers.

It concluded that kids should spend "no more than two hours a day on digital media, and try to increase the amount of time [they] spend seeing friends face-to-face and exercising--two activities reliably linked to greater happiness."

Susan Wojcicki surely isn't the first parent to be concerned that the main goal of her business -- again, getting people to watch as many videos as possible, in order to maximize advertising revenue -- might conflict with how she wants to raise her family.

She's a pretty high profile example of screen time temperance, though.

We'll do a lot for our businesses as entrepreneurs. But when it comes right down to it a lot of us will do almost anything for our kids.

Published on: Aug 14, 2019
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