In her new book, Dot Complicated, the sister of Mark Zuckerberg writes about why she left Facebook, how to resist “over-sharing” about our kids online, and how we can unravel our wired lives.  Her children’s picture book Dot, about a girl who learns how to unplug, is also being released this month.
Randi spoke with Bay Area Parent about technology addiction, Facebook etiquette and how she unplugs with her family.
How can kids incorporate technology in traditional play (like going outside) and what are ways that technology can bring children together?
In Dot, even though I’m showing the value of playing outside, in the end I’m showing a nice balance. We live in the real world. I’m not advocating a [technology] disconnect in any way. Tech, when used consciously and mindfully, can be wonderful for children. There are apps that encourage creativity and apps that help special needs kids. Mobile devices can be an amazing way for children to connect with each other.
What are healthy online behaviors we can model for our kids?
The very first step is for parents to take inventory of their own behavior. Children will monitor and learn from us. They notice if we’re having half conversations and half checking our email. Before we focus on children’s use of tech, we need to take stock of our own. I like to group tech into two branches. The first is passive technology, like putting on a video. The second is really interactive technology: talking to other people or learning. My son loves music. We’re looking at apps that will teach young children piano to encourage his love of music.
What do you think are some effective daily strategies parents can use to put limits on technology use?
Technology can zombify you a little bit.  There are a few techniques that some parents use. In addition to a monetary allowance, some parents use a “tech time allowance” where you tell your kids, “You have an hour to spend this week using technology. When the hour is up, you can earn more minutes by doing other things.” If parents don’t want to be the bad guy, the new Kindle can be programmed to turn off automatically.  You can even program Wi-Fi to go off at certain times in your children’s rooms.
I talk a lot in Dot Complicated about spending time on weekdays or weekends away from technology – a Digital Sabbath. There’s even a national day of unplugging. It’s really important to find that time where everyone unplugs together.  In my family, we try to find a 4-6 hour block on the weekends when we unplug. We bring along one emergency phone. It’s really amazing the things you notice, and how you can engage with your family while there are no other distractions.
&pagebreaking&You say in Dot Complicated that we need control over our devices instead of letting them control us. How can parents, especially in the Bay Area, achieve that when our work email is linked to our phones, and when there’s an addictive quality to some of these devices?
I think tech addiction is a real thing. When you receive an email, you get a dopamine burst similar to addicts doing drugs. There’s a real texting and driving problem in society. Young children around the world, especially in Asia, are being treated for tech addiction. It’s important to put things in perspective. Does the text or email have to be answered right now? Can it wait for 10 minutes? Sometimes an email or text needs to be responded to right away. But 95 percent of the time, it can wait and should.
You write in Dot Complicated about how parents need to pay attention to how we share online, and how new moms may not fully understand how what they post now may affect their kids later.  What would you advise to new moms?
In some ways, Facebook was the best thing for me as a new mom. You go to bed on Earth one day (before kids) and the next day wake up on Mars. You don’t know how to even leave the house anymore. Facebook is a support group for millions of moms around world. When you are wondering what to post online, think back to before you had kids and about how you felt when you saw what new moms were posting on Facebook. Also, remember this is the very first digital footprint you are creating for your child.
What’s your reaction to parents who decide not to post about their kids online?
My family is spread out around the world. Facebook is the only way to communicate what’s going on. A sharing moratorium would work if my family was within a five-minute driving radius.
We need balance. Being too far on either end of spectrum is dangerous. Children will look to us – if we’re not sharing anything – it’s like preaching abstinence. Don’t share too much, don’t share too little.
If someone else is around, I ask their opinion before I post. Platforms I know are public – Twitter and Instagram – I really think hard about what I put out there. Facebook is not Google cached, and I feel safer.
Why did you make the decision to write one book for kids and one for adults? 
I started off writing Dot Complicated and it became very clear to me that we need to start talking to kids about technology at a very early age. This [children’s] book is targeted to preschool, kinder, first grade. Kids are very proficient about devices.
What’s been fun for me in writing this is that regardless of ethnicity or religion most parents in the Bay Area can relate to this issue.
 Amy Ettinger is the Online/Social Media Editor at Bay Area Parent. 


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