Less phones but more networks: what Silicon Valley parents really do with their children | Technology
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In October 2018, New York Times published an article titled “A Dark Consensus About Screens and Kids Begins to Emerge in Silicon Valley.” The subtitle was a phrase from a former Facebook employee even more gloomy: “I am convinced that the devil lives in our mobiles.” The article was a handful of interviews with tech employees who tended to see dangers in their children’s access to mobiles and platforms, and spawned another spate of articles about the alleged tendency of tech gurus to prevent their children from using the technologies they they themselves create.
Now, finally, we have reliable data about it. TheInformation, a subscription medium focused exclusively on Silicon Valley and that claims to be the largest newsroom in the world dedicated to technology, has published an online survey of 1,053 subscribers (with a total of 1,846 children between 1 and 18 years old) about the use of screens in their families. The portrait that comes out is much more balanced and the demon hardly appears. The results show different families that control and limit the use of screens by the little ones, but on average they do not seem to exercise excessive censorship.
“We believe it is the largest survey of technology leaders in Silicon Valley conducted to date,” Jon Steinberg, director of the weekend edition of the magazine, told EL PAÍS by mail. The Information. “The Silicon Valley Center for Early Learning surveyed 907 parents in 2016 about the use of technology by children up to age 8 in the San Francisco area. It was similar, but for a much younger age group (and, of course, before the pandemic) ”, she adds.
At what age do they give the first mobile, according to the survey? At age 11, when middle school begins in the US, although many parents try to wait until 14, the start of high school, and a small percentage hand it over even before 9. Do they use tablets? Yes, from a very young age: in the age range of 4 to 6 years, 80% already use one, above the national average in the US. Do they play video games? Of course, long before they have a mobile phone or a social network.
And the social networks then? Although the sample Information tends to young children (8 years on average), 23% of parents admit that their children use networks and half of these started between 10 and 12 years, before the 13 allowed by the platforms. The most successful networks are the usual ones: Instagram, TikTok and Snap, in that order.
Why are there no certainties?
The relationship between mobiles, screens and children is one of the most swampy areas of our time. An entire generation of parents who grew up without the internet now fears that their children will be abducted by something that they should not have experienced as adults. That difference, and the lack of evidence in studies that have looked at humans from babies surrounded by screens, allow for speculation.
Employees who presumably see the guts of the technology we consume are even supposed to have the advantage of greater knowledge. The reality, however, is more banal and their choices are just as indefinite as those of the rest. In the end, they are decisions that depend on many factors: nothing guarantees that parents who manage to delay the delivery of the precious mobile to their daughter at the age of 14, will achieve their future happiness with certainty or that they will not fall into the addiction of Instagram, TikTok or WhatsApp .
Although geographically the subscribers of Information respondents are not all in Silicon Valley (44% are in California, 16% in New York and 33% outside the US), dedication to the technology sector is the majority: 28% work in a large technology company, 21 % in a startup, 14% are investors and 13% even “have founded a start-up”. Only 23.5% were employed outside of technology, although with a probable interest in the sector.
they are richer
The general results of the survey of Information they tend to fit more with people with high incomes than with an alleged anti-tech bias of employees in the sector: “We do not ask for income in the survey, but the median family income in Santa Clara County is $130,890, according to the census data,” says Steinberg. “Median household income in the US was $67,521 in 2020. So some of our results, such as the large percentage of young children who have access to tablets and video games, could certainly be affected by income. But as for screen time, it’s more up to the interpretation,” she adds.
The researcher at the University of the Basque Country, Gemma Martínez, does see a certain relationship between income and relationship with technology, although not directly due to income: “High incomes, in addition to being more digitally skilled, have more confidence in them regarding their skills. of their children,” he says. “Those with lower status usually say that their children are more skilled than they are and it has been shown that the more skillful the parents are, the more effective parental supervision will be. That is the big problem here,” she adds.
This lack of confidence in lower incomes makes them withdraw from the accompaniment of minors when they access the mobile, networks, videos. And what can happen then? “They restrict their children’s activities more, and restrictions are associated with fewer risks, but with fewer opportunities,” says Martínez.
The difference, therefore, may ultimately be more qualitative. In the latest EU Kids Online survey in 19 European countries, children between the ages of 9 and 16 are connected to the internet in front of a screen for just under 3 hours a day. In Silicon Valley? Much less up to 16 years. “Those figures are more similar to what came out in the 2010 EU Kids Online survey,” says Martínez. It’s hard to say how clean those numbers are and whether they include everything that’s done on a device. In 2020, in full lockdown, the number of screen time for American teenagers was 7.7, between double and triple what tech parents report in 2022.
Watch out for the little ones
The only lesson that parents can draw from this conglomeration of data and evidence is that there are no clear guidelines, beyond accompanying and helping minors in their successive discoveries, year on year on. In addition to the caution of adolescents with addictive social networks for everyone, the other great fact that is more or less confirmed is the little use of screens for babies and children of a few years: “Younger children do not learn well from screens,” he says an article from the American Psychological Association.
But he goes on: “As kids get older, they can learn meaningful information from screens, but the ubiquity of devices also means kids can spend too much time being sedentary. However, complete abstinence from recreational screen time can be counterproductive for older children and adolescents.” In other words, the problem of the screen for children is sedentary lifestyle, not the screen directly. And when older it can be harmful.
The survey of Information it also gives valuable information on other choices of tech parents. The consumption of online videos with tablets starts strong in the 4-6 year age bracket, although there are also earlier, especially with YouTube, Netflix and Disney, in that order. Amazon Prime and iTunes carry much less weight. The preferred video game platforms are Nintendo Switch, Minecraft, Xbox, Roblox, Super Nintendo and Wii.
As good technological parents, 38% allow their children to use apps to learn the basics and logic of the code. A third of those start before the age of 6. The most popular apps are CodeSpark, Tynker, Hopscotch, GoldieBlox, and Scratch. Among the five favorite YouTube channels, two are for relaxing or entertaining songs for children (one called Cosmic Kids Yoga, eminently Californian) and the other three mix scientific learning with banal fun: Mark Rober, Khan Academy and Dude Perfect.
In addition, there are children who use Apple Watch, Fitbit, virtual reality glasses and Alexas at home, although their adoption level for children is around 40% or not even (as in the case of virtual reality).
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