Technology has made Bill Gates the richest man in the world. You'd think he'd want to teach his three children to benefit from technology just as he has. Instead, the Microsoft founder seems more concerned about keeping tech from harming his kids.

In an interview with the UK Mirror earlier this year, Gates explained that he and his wife Melinda strictly limited their kids' tech exposure, banning them from owning a cell phone before they turn 14 or whipping out their devices at dinner time.

"We often set a time after which there is no screen time and in their case that helps them get to sleep at a reasonable hour," he told the paper. "You're always looking at how it can be used in a great way - homework and staying in touch with friends - and also where it has gotten to excess."

Steve Jobs kept tech to a minimum too.

Things were similar at the Jobs house, according to the New York Times' Nick Biton. When the Apple founder called Bilton to complain about a story shortly after the iPad's launch, Bilton asked how his kids were enjoying the wildly popular new product.

"They haven't used it," Jobs responded. "We limit how much technology our kids use at home." The conversation prompted Bilton to dig into the restrictions other tech titans institute at home with their kids. He found a stunning level of strictness was common across many of the best known names in tech.

"My kids accuse me and my wife of being fascists and overly concerned about tech, and they say that none of their friends have the same rules," Wired founder Chris Anderson told Bilton. Evan Williams and his explained that "in lieu of iPads, their two young boys have hundreds of books (yes, physical ones) that they can pick up and read anytime." Many others reported similar rules.

They built it, so they should know it.

What are these iconic founders so worried about? The same things you probably stress about when you see your kid staring into an iPad screen, mesmerized -- cyberbullying, exposure to age inappropriate content, the crowding out of more beneficial activities by screen time, and the danger of developing an addiction to the devices' hollow pleasures.

What makes the strict rules these tech pioneers institute in their personal lives so alarming isn't the types of fears that drive them - nearly all parents worry about screen time these days - but the magnitude of that fear. By modern standards, Jobs and Gates come across as close to paranoid. These are, after all, the folks best placed to understand exactly how our gadgets work and just how harmful they can be. It's far more likely that they've got an accurate handle on the risks than us non-tech geniuses do.

And as the Guardian recently reportedly, these concerns are shared by a whole host of lesser known but still hugely influential technologists who, having less financial stake in talking up current realities than tech company bosses, are often even more frank about their worries. One of the women who helped develop the Facebook "like" button, for instance, "has installed a web browser plug-in to eradicate her Facebook news feed, and hired a social media manager to monitor her Facebook page so that she doesn't have to."

What limits should you set?

If all this gets you thinking that you might want to revisit your own household's rules, what restrictions should you consider? Here are some in-depth portraits of how various tech insiders handle the issue. They cover important issues like avoiding a backlash over strict limits, teaching kids to control their own impulses, and making distinctions between creative use of tech and passive consumption.

Or, if you think Gates, Jobs, and the rest are pretty smart and you'd like to follow their example, then consider rules like these, all of which have been reported to be in effect in the homes of some of the biggest names in tech:

  • No phone until kids turn 14 (some families hold off on a data plan until even later)

  • Banning devices at family dinner

  • Setting a curfew for kids to be off devices well before bedtime

  • Setting strict limits on screen time during the school week (or even banning screens entirely for younger kids)

  • Carefully considering what social media services to allow your kids to use (Snapchat, at least, won't leave a lifelong record of youthful missteps)

  • Banning devices in children's bedrooms

Published on: Oct 29, 2017
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