Parenting is the hardest job in the world. There is no handbook, no guide you receive with your first-born child. It is an endless journey into uncharted territory, with the only strategy being to "figure it out as you go along."
With the way the world is moving, especially in the past decade, a prominent conversation has emerged in the world of parenting: "How much time do we allow our children to spend with technology?" Even the most conservative parents are able to acknowledge that tech is the future, and being able to use tech effectively is a necessary skill set.
However, the flip-side shows that tech is certainly not the be-all-end-all. Kids still need to learn how to socialize in the real world, they need to play outside, they need to fall off their bikes and scrape their knees every once in awhile too.
Someone who knows these challenges all too well is Randi Zuckerberg, whom many might assume holds a very one-sided perspective on the conversation, fully endorsing tech. However, it's quite the opposite. Zuckerberg is a strong advocate for work-life balance, and even more so, screen-life balance with children. So much so, that she started Dot Complicated, which educates and informs readers around how to "untangle" their lives, and think hard about how we as humans interact with both our beloved technology, as well as the people in our lives--friends, family, and children.
I had the opportunity to chat with Zuckerberg about how she has been able to navigate these waters in her own life, and how she suggests other parents can do the same:
1. Separate "Screen-time" and "Tech-time."
One of the big challenges Zuckerberg pointed out as soon as we started talking was this difference between "screen-time" and "tech-time." As she explained, many parents equate technology with screen-time, and see the two as identical. But to Zuckerberg, she sees them as extremely separate.
"When people ask me how much screen time I give my children, I actually say very little. And then they say, 'But Randi, I thought you were so tech savvy!' and I say, 'Oh, that's not the question you asked me. You asked how much screen time I give my kids, not how much tech.' I think that's the problem. That's why you see this trend of parents taking their kids away from technology. Because when a lot of parents think about kids and tech, the image that comes to mind is their child sitting on a sofa, glaring into an iPad," said Zuckerberg.
As she explained, there are hundreds of ways to expose children to technology and develop that love, that early interest in computer science and coding, logic skills, building, and engineering that never even involves screen time at all.
2. Create a digital allowance.
"Just like how a lot of children have a financial allowance, I am a huge believer in having a digital allowance too," said Zuckerberg. "This is something that parents and children should discuss together, because it's different in every household."
At the start of each year, for example, Zuckerberg suggests sitting down as a family and determining what the appropriate digital allowance should be. Different households have different ages where children get their first mobile phone or their first social media account. So once the digital allowance has been determined, then the child can practice allocating those minutes on their own--which empowers them to learn self-discipline.
"It's great because then the child can decide if they want to blow all their minutes in one day, in one sitting, or if they want to spread it out. And then, of course, you can incentivize them to earn extra minutes, if they do extra chores around the house, if they go outside and do things, etc.," said Zuckerberg. "I am a huge advocate of having some kind of digital allowance that is an open discussion between parents and children."
3. Look at your children's screen usage--and look at your own, as parents.
The most interesting point Zuckerberg made during our conversation about screens, tech, and parenting, is the fact that many adults are quick to set rules for their children regarding television, social media, etc., but do not do so with themselves.
"I think all adults need to remember to keep the light shined on themselves as well. We all need to take a look in the mirror and think about our own screen usage, because the rules we are setting for our children when it comes to screen time, we don't even follow ourselves. And the first thing we need to realize is that our children see how we behave around technology, and that's how they are learning about their own relationship with technology. So I think, first and foremost, all parents need to remember to ask themselves, 'Are my behaviors around technology healthy?' said Zuckerberg.
These are wise words coming from someone who, at any given time, is advising twelve different tech startups at any given time. If there is one thing Zuckerberg knows, it is the importance and future of tech--but at the same time, how to have a healthy and balanced relationship with it as well.