It turns out that Bill Gates not only knows a thing or two about building a computer empire — he also knows about raising great kids.
He has a rule in his home: no cell phones for kids until they are 14. So the man who co-founded Microsoft Corporation, the world’s largest personal computer software company — the same man who wrote his first computer program at age 13 — is keeping phones away from his own kids.
Every parent should follow his lead. Here’s why.
First, when you hand your child a phone, you immediately give thousands of people access to your little one’s mind and heart. Regardless how smart or level-headed your child is, boys, girls, men and women who hold radically different values from yours can mess with your kid’s head. Others can text pornography, lure them into conversations you don’t want them to have at their age — and even their schoolmates can taunt them via the phone.
Second, phones disrupt a child’s attention from more important things. How can a parent expect a fourth-grader to finish a set of math problems with a phone sitting next to her when all her friends are trying to reach her? Even boys, who don’t engage in social media to the extent girls do, have a terribly difficult time keeping their fingers off game apps, typing texts to their buddies, or browsing the internet for the latest gadgets and games.
Most boys struggle as it is to keep their minds on the task at hand, but when they are free to keep a phone in their pocket, the temptation to be, and stay, interrupted can be too strong for their untrained minds.
Third, a phone competes with you for your child’s attention. Many parents forget that a child’s identity and character are shaped by having face to face time with his mother and father. I write about this extensively in “12 Principles of Raising Great Kids.” But when a child has a phone, her focus moves to it and away from the face or voice of her parents. This is terribly detrimental to a child’s intellectual, psychological, and emotional development.
So think of your child’s phone as competition with you — because it is. It is far easier for your child to pay attention to her phone than to you, but your child will turn out smarter and more self-confident by having one thing: engagement with you. Put the phone between the two of you, and you lose.
What’s a parent to do? Easy.
Follow these simple guidelines.
1.) No cell phones until they’re at least 14 years old. Period. Make hard-and-fast rules for every child in your home.
2.) Declare the phone your child uses a family phone, not the child’s. Psychologically, this helps your child avoid receiving or sending private messages, texts, etc. that he doesn’t want anyone else in the family to see.
3.) Routinely look at all messages, the sites she visits, and your child’s Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook accounts. Many parents give their children harmful privacy because they believe that looking at a child’s phone is an invasion of privacy. This is misguided. A phone that serves as a platform for conversations or as a place to investigate interests is not private.
Children cannot be given access to private worlds where they can do and be anyone they desire. Your job is to keep them close in order to protect them not only from others who want to harm them, but to protect them from themselves.
Remember that phones are just phones. You grew up to be a sane, intelligent and caring human being without one. So did I.
The only thing we lost in not having phones in grade school or high school was taking part in many stupid adolescent conversations, watching silly YouTube snippets, and wasting time. What we gained was the ability to concentrate better on things that mattered, more time interacting with our parents and friends, and figuring out how to deal with boredom.
Let’s do these things for our own kids.
Dr. Meg Meeker has practiced pediatrics and adolescent medicine for more than 30 years. She is the author of the best-selling book “Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters” as well as a number of digital parenting resources and online courses, including The 12 Principles of Raising Great Kids.