Keeping our kids away from tech

A friend of mine who is a trained software engineer and works in the Tech industry posted a link on facebook last week and swore that he is never going to hand his 3 month old son an iPad. Not now, not ever. I don’t blame him, with a title like that? [Here’s Why Steve Jobs Didn’t Let His Kids Use iPads and Why You Shouldn’t Either] I can totally imagine a parent tapping on that link with her finger shaking in fear, reading in astonishment and then deciding how they will cut their child’s iPad time. That is, if they don’t go straight for the garbage bin to chuck the iPad first.

This article is not an aberration. I see at least one such article everyday — mostly on Facebook, Twitter and sometimes also in popular educational blogs.

The problem with these articles is that they are inaccurate, take quotes out of context and to some degree are fear-mongering even — not to mention quite click-bait’y. The underlying assumption for most of these articles is that we as humans have no interest in anything intellectual and are only interested in games and media that fill our mind with rubbish. While I can’t speak for all adults, I know for a fact that this is not true with children.

First let me address the quote that has been completely pulled out of context:

“They haven’t used it. We limit how much technology our kids use at home.”

If you google that quote you will see hundreds of articles that have been published since the original article appeared in NYT on Sep 1, 2014. The original piece was a very well balanced piece that dwells deep into the true dangers of tech for kids when left unmonitored. While also touching up on why banning tech for kids altogether is not a good idea either.

Why anyone would turn this very balanced piece to “.. you shouldn’t let your kids use iPads” — we’ll never know. These articles are not opposing iPads or Apple products in particular, they are talking about technology in general for kids which is what makes these articles entirely dangerous. This comes from the same line of thought that all new technology has evils. Like the television aka the idiot Box.

The darling analogy that most use to compare today’s tech for kids is the television. There are two reasons this analogy is completely wrong.

a) Television is not adaptive. EdTech is. Television doesn’t take input from your understanding of the world or your emotions to present you with content that enriches your intellect. Today’s edtech is trying to do that. Adaptive Learning is about understanding what the student knows and what he is interested in order to build on top of that.

b) Unlike TV, simply taking tech away from your kids will only keep your kids underprepared for the future. Devices have and will continue to become a part of our daily life. Taking them away just means you are pulling your kids away from reality.

Jordan Shapiro, a Forbes Journalist on EdTech and a parent of two talks about how one of his resolutions for 2015 is ‘No Video Game Punishments.’ Thinking of screentime as a privilege to your children and therefore something that can be taken away when misbehaved just draws an undesired correlation between tech and having fun. Read his article here.

Advice to parents:

When I was interviewing parents to design , I heard a parent make a comment that bothered me. While I was still explaining the concept, he interrupted:
You know what, I am very busy. I would like to just download an app, have it in front of my kid so that he doesn’t bother me for two straight hours. You have an app like that? I won’t mind paying.

While I understand that parents are busy people, this attitude towards using tech as a mindless toy is a huge turn off for any good EdTech designer. I don’t mind designing an app that your child will consume for two hours straight — only if you are willing to spend at least the next half hour with her engaging in a conversation over what she learnt, in a meaningful way.

You don’t have to be over-involved with your kids as long as you are mindful of what your kid watches, listens and reads. This is the basic minimum expectation from a parent.

“How do I do that?” you ask:

  • Read up on the apps and websites your child is using to know if they have a theory of learning. If you do not understand the educational value in the first ten minutes you spend on their website, it’s probably not worth your or your child’s time.
    Follow websites like Moms With Apps and CommonSense Media where they take the time to list some great products for your children.
  • “…limit their use of technology”
    There is no calculator that tells you how much time your child should spend on-tech and off-tech. This differs by age, the personality of the child and the access she has to technology. Observing your child’s habits on a day-today basis will help you determine what is the right limit.
  • At the end of the day, regardless of which app or website your child likes, engage them in a conversation about it. Ask them why they like it and what would they do differently if they designed that game/app/website.
  • Parents, if you were looking for a resolution this new year, let it be “To Spend half-hour everyday understanding your child’s media use” Your kids will ❤ you!

Advice to app/game developers in the ‘Kids’ category:

Take your job seriously. You have one of the most exciting and challenging job descriptions of our time. Keep in mind that as you design your product, you are in a unique position of addressing to two different consumer groups — parents and children. This applies to games, every app you see under the ‘Kids’ category in the App Store or any website that targets kids.

  • Design your product in a way that the value of the product is apparent to the parent immediately. State your learning goals for their children and make it easy-to-find on your website. Imagine you parents explaining your product to a fellow-parent, how would you like them to describe it? Now, work backwards. Having this clarity is going to in turn help you design a meaningful learning experience for your core users.
  • If possible, demonstrate the change in the student’s performance to the parent via monthly reports. Seeing how an app is affecting their child’s learning is going to help the parent decide whether or not to keep the app on the mobile device or keep a website on their bookmarks/chrome extensions. Keep in mind, that there are going to be certain changes you won’t be able to report on. So it’s important to know the balance between making sure children have a good time and testing their understanding.
  • If there is a way that will help your kids connect your app/product to the real world — do it! Instead of implementing a ‘social’ solution on your own website/app, implement a way for them to go out into the world- to their friends or siblings or parents – and engage in a conversation with them instead.

If you are an EdTech designer looking for a resolution in 2015, let it be “To design for those parents who are truly involved in their child’s learning.”


Feature image courtesy of Flickr, gagilas.


  1. Cool post. However no matter how many facts you show and no matter how much intelligent rationale you put into your article the anti tech crowd will still hate tech, just like No Vaccine parents. Common sense and rational thought escapes them.

    1. Thanks for the comment Doakie! Yes, it can be very tough to convince some people. We just have to keep up the fight!

    2. Thanks Doakie! It’s been apparent to me over the conversations I’ve been having on twitter about this post, that the fundamental problem arises because of our understanding of (ed)tech as the antithesis to books. Books were simply another form of technology. And I think in one way, tablets or other computer devices are an evolved form of the book. And like all new technology, tablets and other devices will not be perfect at first but will rely on us to be fixed for our educational purposes.

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