Children and Technology

My wife told me the story of a friend who took her family on vacation to Japan. As is quite common with many affluent Filipino families today, their two-year old had her own iPad, the modern-day equivalent of a pacifier. The mother recounted how the Japanese reacted to the sight of a toddler with her own iPad with astonishment. Such a thing simply wasn’t done in Japan!

There’s different ways to view this. One, we could say that Filipino children are more technologically advanced than the Japanese. I mean, look how they swipe and navigate through the iPad with ease! Japanese children can’t do that! So hooray for Pinoy Pride! Or two, we could step back and ask why they don’t give toddlers access to mobile phones and tablets in Japan. (Or three, maybe it was just the community they were visiting that resisted this trend.)

Unfortunately I don’t have yet data on the extent exposure of young children to technology in Japan, nor of prevailing attitudes. Maybe some further research in the coming weeks will reveal this. But what I do have on hand are the parenting philosophies of the top minds of tech.

Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft and now philanthropist, thinks children have to be in high school before they’re given a smartphone. Gates’ own kids didn’t get their own smartphones until they were 14, and even then, there’s a cap on how much screen time they have at home. Also: no cell phones or tablets at the dinner table. Melinda, Bill Gates’ wife, sums it up: “Phones and apps aren’t good or bad by themselves, but for adolescents who don’t yet have the emotional tools to navigate life’s complications and confusions, they can exacerbate the difficulties of growing up.”

The same goes for the late Steve Jobs. When asked if his kids liked the newly released iPad, Jobs answered: “Actually we don’t allow the iPad in the home. We think it’s too dangerous for them in effect.” Early on, Jobs already recognized the addictive nature of his own product. “We limit how much technology our kids use at home,” Jobs explained to a reporter. Instead, dinner at the Jobs’ kitchen was spent discussing books and history.

The list goes on. Tim Cook, current CEO of Apple, doesn’t want his nephew on social media and even thinks that there should be limits on how much technology in education there should be: “I don’t believe in overuse [of technology]. I’m not a person that says we’ve achieved success if you’re using it all the time.”

More recently, two investors in Apple have raised concerns that technology might be hurting children. In an open letter to Apple (published in, they called on the company to “offer more choices and tools to help them ensure that young consumers are using your products in an optimal manner.” They cited some statistics about children and technology from a study of American kids:

  • Children who spend 3 hours a day or more on electronic devices are 35% more likely, and those who spend 5 hours or more are 71% more likely, to have a risk factor for suicide than those who spend less than 1 hour.

  • Children who are heavy users of social media have a 27% higher risk of depression.

  • Teens who spend 5 or more hours a day (versus less than 1) on electronic devices are 51% more likely to get less than 7 hours of sleep (versus the recommended 9). Sleep deprivation leads to weight gain and high blood pressure.