'Virtual world is no substitute for real one'

Ms Randi Zuckerberg.
Ms Randi Zuckerberg.ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

Facebook pioneer is purposeful in using tech because kids learn from observing parents

She might have had a hand in building one of today's social media behemoths, but nobody is doing any Facebooking around Ms Randi Zuckerberg's dinner table.

"At dinner time, there are no devices in the room at all," she told The Straits Times.

Parents here might be familiar with this ground rule. Like them, Ms Zuckerberg, a mother of two boys - aged four years and one year - sets firm rules for her children.

She was Facebook's director of marketing and one of its earliest employees, but the 34-year-old feels strongly that too much social media is bad for everyone, especially children.

"My four-year-old will sit there at the table and say, 'Ugh, what are we gonna do?' We're going to have a conversation... We're not going to use any emojis. We're actually going to talk," she said.

Ms Zuckerberg was in town for the Women of Wealth and Abundance seminar earlier this month. She is the sister of Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, who is among the 25 richest men in the world.

"My favourite saying is, 'Go outside. I hear the graphics are really awesome out there.'"

LET'S HAVE A CHAT

My four-year-old will sit there at the table and say, 'Ugh, what are we gonna do?' We're going to have a conversation... We're not going to use any emojis. We're actually going to talk.

MS RANDI ZUCKERBERG, who feels that too much social media is bad for everyone, especially children.

She spoke to The Straits Times on the sidelines and shared some of her tips on parenting with technology. For starters, she set limits on "screen time" for her children, and sets an example in front of them too.

"I try in my life to use social media purposefully, and not just snack on it like junk food throughout the day," she said, noting that children learn how to behave with technology by observing their parents.

In 2013, Ms Zuckerberg wrote Dot Complicated, a book that touches on the perils of social media.

After she left Facebook in 2011, she set up Zuckerberg Media, a boutique marketing firm and production company.

She has an estimated net worth of US$100 million (S$136 million).

The self-professed professional technologist points out that technology was designed to bring people closer together, but the way many use it, "it comes up like a wall between us and the people we love".

But technology is neither inherently good nor bad - it is how people use it that matters, she said.

So when it comes to her children, she does not plonk them in front of an iPad with a video, when she needs that "15 minutes of down time". Instead, she occupies them with games and apps that either exercise their imagination, teach them things like a foreign language or music, or even imbue in them a love for coding.

For instance, her son, Asher, plays with a robot that he can command and control through an iPhone.

"So at four years old, my son is basically learning how to code without knowing it. He's teaching this robot how to do things," she said.

She also allows her son to earn his screen time - so when he behaves well, such as when he makes his bed or is nice to his brother - he earns minutes that he can use to watch shows or play with his robot.

"So for us, screen time is a privilege that you earn, not just something you are given," she said.

Having said that, she stresses that the virtual world is no replacement for the real one.

"Kids have a lot of years to keep their head down in front of a computer screen," she said, adding that there was nothing that could replace interacting with the real world.

"Get outside, we live in a beautiful world," said Ms Zuckerberg.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 21, 2016, with the headline ''Virtual world is no substitute for real one''. Print Edition | Subscribe