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Esther Wojcicki, Mother of YouTube CEO, Shares Advice for Parents on Kids’ Exposure to Tech

May 15, 2019, 6:19 AM UTC

Esther Wojcicki has a nuanced view of the role technology should play in children’s lives. As you might expect from the mother of tech CEOs Susan Wojcicki (YouTube) and Anne Wojcicki (23andMe), she sees tech as a valuable tool for making vast amounts of information widely accessible. But, as befits her role as a long-time educator, she still cautions parents against overexposing children to technology.

“What we need to do is teach our children how to use technology appropriately,” she said. “In other words, restraint and self-restraint.”

Speaking at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women dinner in San Francisco on Tuesday, Wojcicki said teaching children how to handle technology helps establish habits they’ll carry into adulthood. And if parents don’t want their children to be addicted to tech, they’ll have to lead by example.

“Kids model after their parents,” said Wojcicki, who is the author of the new book How to Raise Successful People: Simple Lessons for Radical Results. “So you can’t answer [your phone] at dinner either, no matter how important that call is.”

One resource she recommended to parents is Common Sense Media, a nonprofit group that advocates for the safety of children online and in connection to different forms of media. The group has created a rating system that helps parents navigate age-appropriate content across different media. It also has backed legislative efforts to protect children’s data online and, interestingly, recently called on companies like YouTube and Netflix to remove features that promote addictive behaviors.

In addition to talking about her views on tech, Wojcicki discussed some of the strategies she’s used to instill leadership values—both as the founder of the Media Arts programs at Palo Alto High School and as mom to Susan, Anne, and Janet Wojcicki, a University of California at San Francisco professor of pediatrics.

Her secret? Empowerment.

“What I was giving them was freedom, respect, and trust,” she said about her students and daughters. “I knew what I was doing worked.”

She says over the last several decades, she has used TRICK—an acronym she uses to describe trust, respect, independence, collaboration, and kindness—to empower young people, which, by the way, includes Hollywood actor James Franco. And empowerment makes all the difference when it comes to inspiring budding leaders, whether that’s children, students, or professionals.

“They work really hard because they know that I care … and that I do believe in them,” she said. “That’s what we can do as parents … as teachers.”