While there's no reason to think of tech icons as parental role models, there's one aspect of raising kids they do understand better than most of us: The impact of screens.
When it came to tech and their own kids, both Steve Jobs and Bill Gates were famously strict about how much screen time they allowed. Jobs didn't let his kids use the iPad he helped invent. Gates banned his kids from getting phones until they were 14.
Which sounds both worrying, given that these founders are best placed to know what too much time on devices might do to developing minds, and also super aspirational. If you're concerned about your own kids' tech usage but struggle to set the same strict boundaries as Gates and Jobs, another tech executive has a different suggestion: Have your kids sign a user agreement before you get them a smartphone.
Can't manage a total ban? Try a user agreement.
Just like Gates and Jobs, Jennifer Zhu Scott, a Hong Kong-based tech executive and TED speaker focused on privacy issues, was concerned about the dangers of giving her two children, aged 10 and 11, smartphones--given her deep understanding of the power and perils of technology. But unlike these billionaires, she (relatably) found herself unable to resist her daughters' pleas until they were high school sophomores.
Instead, she drew on her professional experience and made them sign a three-page, 15-point "user agreement" for their phones.
"They had to agree to share their passwords with her, ask for permission before signing up for social media accounts, be open about harassment or strange phone calls or messages, and answer any questions about how they were using their phones," reports journalist Lauren Schenkman on the TED Ideas blog. "Part of the agreement is a crash course in internet privacy. It tells her daughters what we adults so often forget--that everything we put online is likely to be read, used, and sold in ways that we can't begin to imagine."
Etiquette and overuse are also covered by the agreement. It bans phone use after 8 p.m. and requires the girls put their phones down while socializing and walking. It also contains a strong warning about the long life of potentially embarrassing photos and posts shared online.
If this approach appeals to you, the complete agreement is available here, and Schenkman's piece breaks down Zhu Scott's advice for other parents in greater detail. But the basic takeaway from her user agreement experiment is this: It seems to be working.
"I'm quite happy with them; both of my kids have quite a strong sense of their privacy and their data," she tells Schenkman. If you too are concerned about the pitfalls of screens for your kids and are able to manage a Jobs-like moratorium, Zhu Scott's approach might be worth considering.