Bill Gates on parenting: No phones until you’re 14, and limited screen time

When I was growing up, my parents put limits on the time that my brothers and I could spend in front of a computer, which felt particularly harsh when we had the latest 486 computer with a drive that could actually play CDs. Those talkie LucasArts adventure games weren’t going to finish themselves with such strict limits – especially with no internet walkthroughs to guide us on our way.

Bill Gates on parenting: No phones until you’re 14, and limited screen time

Technology may have come a long way in the intervening 24 years, but capping children’s screen time is still a parental bugbear – even in homes that were literally built using money from the technological revolution – including, presumably, some licensing fees from young Alan’s copy of Windows 3.1.

In an interview with The Mirror, Microsoft founder Bill Gates revealed that he adopted a similar approach with his children, Jennifer, Rory and Phoebe, now aged 20, 17 and 14.

“We often set a time after which there is no screen time and, in their case, that helps them get to sleep at a reasonable hour,” Gates explained. “You’re always looking at how [phones] can be used in a great way – homework and staying in touch with friends – and also where it has gotten to excess,” Gates said.

And while he’s a fan of smartphones, he employed strict restrictions on his children’s usage: “We don’t have cellphones at the table when we are having a meal; we didn’t give our kids cellphones until they were 14 and they complained other kids got them earlier,” he said.

What isn’t revealed in the interview is what handsets his children are allowed. Back in 2009, Melinda Gates revealed that Apple products were blacklisted. “There are very few things that are on the banned list in our household. But iPods and iPhones are two things we don’t get for our kids.” This was particularly tricky for her, and she added at the time that: “every now and then, I look at my friends and say ‘Ooh, I wouldn’t mind having that iPhone’.”

So it isn’t clear if Phoebe has to make do with a Microsoft Lumia 950, or if Gates’ attitude to rivals has softened in the past eight years. At the very least, they could make a strong play for a Microsoft edition Samsung Galaxy S8, surely?

Apple restrictions aside, this seems like pretty sensible parenting to me. I should add, however, that given I’m currently writing about technology surrounded by no less than four screens, my parents’ approach to technology in the 1990s may have backfired somewhat. We’ll just have to see what the young Gates’ get up to in the next 20 years.

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