Screens And Early Childhood
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Screens And Early Childhood

Screens And Early Childhood

  • It started with a serendipitous and unexpected exchange with Arianna Huffington. A mutual friend connected us to discuss a work opportunity. I casually mentioned how much I enjoyed her new-found mission of helping people move on from surviving to thriving by creating a healthier relationship with technology.

A serendipitous exchange with Arianna Huffington inspired me to share my parenting experience attempting to go screen-free with my children.

Arianna wanted to learn more about this contradiction –– why is it that a family that builds apps for a living, creates a screen-free environment at home?

The company we own builds the apps filling the tiny screens we didn’t let our children adopt. And the contradiction is certainly not lost on me. I feel technology can help us build a better future; however, screens might just be just an early expression of a much-needed sentient interface that includes Voice as well as our senses.

screen-free family in Palo Alto
Rebecca Padnos Altamirano

Then an unexpected message arrived. Liesbeth Staats, the host of Brandpunt, a biweekly TV show in the Netherlands, invited me to be part of a panel of experts analyzing the effects of technology and social media in society. The panel featured Scott Kriens, founder of 1440 Multiversity and former CEO of Juniper Networks, Waldorf School of the PeninsulaAndrew Keen, and Paul Lewis, a technology reporter from The Guardian.

screen-free family
Home lab

Initially, I thought that they might visit us in a few months. How wrong I was! They were practically on their way. Five days later, cameras arrived at our home, in between our son’s basketball games and choir practice. We tried to keep the house as tidy as possible, which is not easy with four spirited kids. My sweet mom, who lives in Holland, Michigan, called the local florist and ordered tulips for our new friends. She left it to me to explain that I’d grown up marching in the annual Tulip Festival; throughout elementary and middle school wearing “Dutch Costumes” in Holland, Michigan.

screen-free family in Silicon Valley

On the day of the interview; I had a couple of hours to myself at home to do some last-minute tidying; while the kids were at their basketball game. We didn’t have time to prep the kids; but I was able to review the projects that they were currently working on at their desks.

Isaac was building a giant Magna-tiles community. He usually works on this in the family room, but 19-month-old Ayla has become quite thrilled at her prowess of knocking down buildings and towers; so moving it to higher ground was a safer bet.

Eli was in the midst of creating a giant wooden sculpture out of the smaller wooden objects he had created for three years at Bing Nursery School. Ethan was in the middle of taking apart a broken iPhone that had inexplicably cracked open. He discovered that the battery had exploded. I was concerned that this project would look “staged.” Here we were touting the dangers of too much technology for young people, and Ethan is literally dismantling an iPhone.

Interview screen-free family in Silicon Valley

Liesbeth and her team were an absolute pleasure to collaborate with. Liesbeth had previously worked for a children’s news program and is also a mother to two boys. She knew how to make the children feel comfortable and natural; despite having a large video camera pointing right at them. Ethan was a shining star and spoke so eloquently and honestly about how much he enjoyed this upbringing style.

For a few hours in the lab, the TV crew filmed our converted garage that was once the offices for Tangelo, now transformed into the kids’ “maker space.”  We had some snacks in the kitchen and our youngest child, Ayla, joined us, fresh from her nap.

Isaac and Eli took a break to play piano, which the team captured on film unbeknownst to me; and then I sat down for a one-on-one interview. More than 4 hours had gone by, and I thought they were ready to wrap up. Instead, they asked to film us going on one of our regular walks at the Stanford Dish trail; a few minutes up the road.  We started walking up the one-mile-long hill and waved goodbye to the team filming below after reaching the top of the first incline.

Antonio and I were feeling both elated and exhausted.  The interview had gone well, and we got through it without any regrets or mishaps. What wasn’t shown on film was that just 24 hours prior; Antonio had received the devastating news that his beloved grandmother had suddenly passed away.  Mami Piedad had helped raise Antonio when he was young. She was a role model of resilience after being widowed when she was 32 years old; and left to bring up her 6 children (who all went to college) all on her own. We thought that Antonio might not be able to participate in the interview; but she was buried a few hours after she died. Antonio could not have arrived in Quito, Ecuador, in time for the service. 


When we shared the sad news with the kids about their great-grandmother’s passing; we comforted each other by recalling our family motto: “What happens when you fall down?  You get up and keep going.” I like to think that she is smiling down on us; beaming with pride for the family that her favorite grandson has created and the company that he has built. We try to live the values that she instilled in him–hard work; rooting for the underdog, and not letting race or class hold us back from achieving our dreams. 

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