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16th Jan 2022

My kids have used the iPad just twice in the last year – and here’s why I’m so strict about it

"I hope that I am instilling in them a sense that the real world is far more important, real friends, real chats, real experiences."
My kids have used the iPad just twice in the last year

Steve Jobs did it.

So did Bill Gates. And Barack and Michelle Obama.

What do these people – these parents – have in common, I hear you ask? Here’s what: They all deliberately took a ‘low-tech’ approach to parenting – and had some seriously good reasons to do just that.

In a New York Times article Michelle once revealed that her girls don’t use the computer for entertainment or watch TV on school nights. And Barack has also previously spoken of his and Michelle’s strict tech rules for their daughters, revealing on ABC’s The View that his daughters have grown up with strong limits on their phones.

And it seems the Obamas were on to something. In Silicone Valley in California, pretty much the work headquarter for all things tech, more and more parents are flat out banning their children from using smart devices and technology when they are not in school, and are instead opting to raise their kids as tech-free as possible. Why? Because maybe they have seen first-hand just how harmful technology and our over-dependence on it can be to children.

Speaking to Business Insider, Apple employee Minni Shahi and her husband Vijay Koduri, a former manager with Google, explain why their sons, aged 10 and 12, are not allowed to play video games and do not have their own phones yet.

“We know at some point they will need to get their own phones. But we are prolonging it as long as possible.”

At the moment, the boys are allowed to play games on their parents’ phones, but only for 10 minutes per week. There are, however, no limits to using the family’s vast library of board games. And while the family does own an iPad 2, for the last five years, it’s lived on the highest shelf in a linen closet.

This struck a chord with me, as this is very much the approach I have taken when it comes to my own children and technology – who are eleven and seven.

For starters, they don’t have phones – because to be honest, I can’t see how they need one. A few years ago, my little girl got a watch for Christmas, one that lets her call three different mobile numbers and likewise, three numbers (that all have to be verified and approved) can call her. That’s it. It has no internet, no bells and whistles – and no games.

Up until this year, when my little boy got a Nintendo Switch for his birthday, we has no game consoles at home (in fairness, this is also due to the fact that no adults in this household are even remotely interested in gaming), and my old iPad, which I think was bought way back in 2012, resides in a drawer and sometimes, as a treat, gets pulled out for a game of GoNoodle. Or, if we are flying off somewhere, we might just bring it along, although more often than not, we forget about it and it gets left at home.

Like the Silicone Valley parents above, I have three games on my own phone (SuperMario, Minecraft and Subway Surfers) that they sometimes are allowed to play – most often as an incentive to wait while I am inside a shop, or are travelling or just as a treat because they have done their homework and chores.

This might sound incredibly restrictive to some (I have even heard that I am harming their development, as children nowadays need to be able to use technology) – but because they don’t know it any other way, it really is no big deal. Yet I am sure there will come a day where this will all change, but for now; I am happy being that boring mum who won’t let them sit in front of an iPad or a game all day.

Last year, my parents, in an attempt to do something nice, of course, bought us a set of those little in-car screens, that attached to the back of the front seats so that they can watch DVDs in the car. And much as I appreciated the gesture, we still haven’t installed them, because driving somewhere, I love the chats we have. Or playing “I spy..” or even singing along to some movie soundtrack we currently have on repeat. And when I explained this, my parents fully understood – because that is exactly what they did with me and my sister when we went on car trips as a family.

I know they will get older and technology will become more important in their lives – there is no way of stopping that and I don’t want to. But for now, I love that they are having a childhood where technology isn’t allowed to consume everything they do. And if there is one thing I am not worried about, it’s that they won’t learn to use it – I think that is pretty much unavoidable these days.

But I hope that I am instilling in them a sense that the real world is far more important, real friends, real chats, real experiences. I don’t want to look back at their childhood and feel like I let it get lost it a screen. Now, more than ever, I think childhood needs to be about play and fun and happiness – in the real world. To prepare them for the next chapter, where technology, whether you want to or not, will take up so much space in their lives.

And the thing is, we adults need to lead by example. It’s no good telling our children to put down the iPad if we are glued to our phones. And being a digital journalist, dividing my time between working in the office and working from home, trust me, that does come with challenges, but I try.

When we come home from work and school, my phone is left on a shelf in the hallway – near enough, so I can hear it if it rings, far enough so that it won’t tempt me into a little scroll here and there. I don’t allow the phone to come into the bedroom, and we can’t watch TV while we are eating dinner. I remember once, a couple of years ago, I was watching a DVD with my little girl, but I was also reading e-mails on my phone, trying to multitask, as we do. Something fun happened in the movie and my little girl glanced up to see did I see it, wanting to share the moment with me, but I had missed it.

And it struck me – I don’t want to miss moments like this because of my stupid phone. Because, my goodness, I am sure there will be days when I am older and they are older where I have plenty of free time to look at my phone, but will long with all my heart for days when she still wanted to watch Barbie DVDs with me.

Where do YOU stand on tech use? Are you strict or think there is a lot of education or entertainment to be found in the iPad? Do you find it hard to be strict about screen time? Please let us know in the comments or tweet us at @Herfamilydotie