A Father-Son Talk For The Digital Age

In honor of Father's Day, my son Jesse, 12, and I answered questions about the role media and technology play in our lives and our relationship. Last month, Common Sense's Technology Addiction: Concern, Controversy and Finding Balance took a deeper dive into the transformative role that technology plays in family life.
06/21/2016 04:40 pm ET Updated Jun 22, 2017

By Jim Steyer
CEO and Founder of Common Sense Media

In honor of Father's Day, my son Jesse, 12, and I answered questions about the role media and technology play in our lives and our relationship. Last month, Common Sense's Technology Addiction: Concern, Controversy and Finding Balance took a deeper dive into the transformative role that technology plays in family life. We found that one out of every two teens feels addicted to his mobile device, and three-quarters of parents feel their teens are distracted by their devices when they are together. While mobile use can be disruptive and a source of conflict, it also has the potential to bring families together. Below, are questions and answers about how we use screen time to bond, plus the lessons I hope to impart as he enters his teenage years.

Jesse, what are some of your favorite ways to spend your screen time?
I don't have a phone, but I love playing video games and watching TV!

Jesse, what are some ways that you and your dad enjoy tech and media together?
My dad and I love to watch sports together, especially the Warriors and the Giants. We also sometimes have family movie nights on the weekends, or we go to movies together, too. Sometimes I'll even challenge him to beat my high scores on my favorite sports video games. I can crush him in 2K, the basketball game, but my dad is pretty good at MLB, though I don't like to admit it!

Jim, what do you hope to teach Jesse about living in the digital world?
My ultimate goal is for Jesse to be a smart, responsible digital citizen. I want him to know and understand the power of the internet and technology, both for good and for bad. I want him to be kind and thoughtful about how he interacts with others online and to know how to effectively use technology to learn and create. But, most importantly, I want him to learn how to unplug and know when it's time to turn off the device and be present in his day-to-day life. That's why Jesse doesn't own a cell phone at age 12.

Jim, is there anything you can do better as Jesse's media role model?
As parents, our biggest job is to model the behavior we want to see in our kids. And with cell phones and other devices in particular, I'm sure we can all be a little bit better, myself included. I bet I'm not the only one who gets frustrated when I'm trying to talk to my kids and their eyes are glued to a screen, but we all need to be more mindful of the example we're setting when an email comes through while they're talking to us. At my house, we are big fans of the concept of the "device-free dinner," which gives us an hour of each other's undivided attention, free from notifications and buzzing phones. It's our time to just talk as a family about our day, what's going on in our lives, and to connect. That's a huge idea for our family and for all of Common Sense.

Jesse, who's more tech-savvy, you or your dad?

Me. Definitely me. My dad still uses a BlackBerry! My dad also asks me to help him fix stuff on the computer when he can't figure it out. I am way more tech-savvy than my dad!

Jim, how can we help all fathers have the opportunity to be a mentor for their kids?
In order for fathers to really be a good mentor to their kids, they have to be present. In order to be present, they must be able to take paid family and medical leave. It is crucial for parents to be an active presence in their children's lives during these critical developmental stages, and it is up to all of us to encourage our senators and policymakers to guarantee paid leave for all.


Common Sense Media is an independent nonprofit organization offering unbiased ratings and trusted advice to help families make smart media and technology choices. Check out our ratings and recommendations at www.commonsense.org.