What I tell my kids: A career in STEM does not start with video games.

Before you read this, know that if your kids play video games, I do not care.

My kids lick the frosting off of cupcakes, by the half-dozen, and I’m too tired to fight it.  So, if your kids use computers and if my kids eat sugar and food coloring, let’s just agree that it’s fine.  It’s not my goal to tell you how to parent, I just plan to share how I think about technology as a start a short series on STEM careers.


I am an electrical engineer and have designed new mobile phones and tablets for most of the last 15 years. A high-tech career has been very rewarding and I recommend it to anyone.  In fact, the money in my bank account is directly a result of new technology.

But I do not let my kids have computers or mobile devices.  They don’t get to play video games, they don’t do homework on computers and they don’t get to learn online.

Phone Monster at Chiledrens Museum
When my older brother heard this, he told me that I was an uncool mom that was sheltering my kids.  It’s true, I am.

Still, I found it reassuring that I’m not the only person, with a high-tech background, that is keeping young kids away from technology.

The Waldorf School in Silicon Valley, where executives from Google and Apple send their kids, has technology-free classrooms. They believe that computers “inhibit creative thinking, movement, human interaction and attention spans”. I am on the computer all day long, and this article says what I’ve felt for years.

I personally learn better through doing than through clicking. Like the Waldorf School article says… I would remember a whole lot more about fractions from cutting up quesadillas than from looking at a screen.

I do get asked a lot if I think my kids are “falling behind” without computers… because isn’t that our greatest fear as parents, that we are screwing up our kids?  Well, besides making my kids be uncool, I think they are fine.  STEM professional use computers, but it’s not the computers that gave them the STEM skills.  Also, computers can be used as learning tools… but they are not the only way to learn.

A device’s user interface is designed to be intuitive and no training is required.  If a child needs instructions to swipe an iPad, it was designed wrong.  And clicking, steering and shooting can make you love graphics and video games, but it will not help you write code and create products.

Also, the devices that I’ve launched around the world have been very helpful to adults… and very addicting and distracting.  How many times have I been looking at Google maps… only to find myself scrolling through cute pictures on social media?

And, playing a video game or learning to navigate a computer has nothing to do with securing a career in high-tech.

Now, if my kids want to program and build robots, I will get out the laptop and our affiliate Arduino in an instant. If they want to make music, produce a movie or take pictures, I will lend them my devices right away.  In my house, using a device and creating something are very different things.

If your kids play video games, let me reassure you that I do not care.  In fact, if my kids go to your house, they can play until they come home.  I know you have picked your battles and I’ve picked mine.  So please do not think that I judge what you do and please do not send me nasty comments.

Of course, some video games are educational and teach lessons. At school, the kids have a technology class and each night we are assigned a computer study assignment. My preference would be to have library over technology, but at school (like at a friend’s house), they can follow the school’s rules. But at my own house, I say “no thank you” to the computer homework.

I did feel bad at first, telling the teachers “no” to online homework. I have a lot of respect for teachers and certainly do not want to make their jobs harder. But, I also have to raise hard working, well behaved, smart kids.

So, I say “no thank you” to computer homework and offer to do flashcards, extra work or even hire a tutor instead. I am fully on board with their lesson plans… just not with the use of a gadget. And I am so determined to keep it this way, I am absolutely ready to pull my kids out of the school if it comes to that.

Not all of our teachers love our “no gadget rule”, but I do send them kids on the top of the “behavior chart”, that complete their work (minus the computer) and get good grades. I don’t ask the teachers to put in more work for my kids, but just that they be tolerant as I spend the extra time needed to cut up quesadillas or bring a lesson to the playground.

This is why I do not worry about the cupcakes… I’m too busy replacing the online lessons.  Remember, this is the battle I’ve chosen… and you should pick the battle that is most important to you.

Of course, I do know that some day my kids will have phones and computers.  Maybe they will ride the bus and need a simple phone for emergencies.  Maybe they will specialize in computer science and need a laptop for coding (and be lucky enough to get the wifi and world wide web that comes with it).  Maybe a lot of things will change.  But for today, my kids have the uncool mom.  (And the mom is cool with it.)



  1. Jill – Your post is so timely as usual! I have been thinking about this very topic and how much screen time my kids really need and it’s nice to know that as a STEM professional you believe that less screen is more. Although I enjoyed playing Tetris as a kid (a lot!) my love of science and engineering really stemmed from being out in the great outdoors and from parents who enjoyed sharing nature with me.
    Thank you for sharing this and giving us a fresh perspective on raising kids who enjoy STEM!

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