In the financial world, robots are changing everything. The rise of the Roboadvisor has sent advisory fees down to the lowest levels ever seen. It’s generally considered a good thing. Lower costs for better management. Yet in other aspects of our lives, we fear the robot. Parenting is one of them. Any parent who wants to maintain their sanity on a long car ride has handed their toddler a device or turned on a DVD. Most of us have done the same at home, despite knowing that “experts” don’t think it’s a good idea. Roboparenting is not a good idea. From the NYTimes:
Parents, grateful for ways to calm disruptive children and keep them from interrupting their own screen activities, seem to be unaware of the potential harm from so much time spent in the virtual world.
“We’re throwing screens at children all day long, giving them distractions rather than teaching them how to self-soothe, to calm themselves down,” said Catherine Steiner-Adair, a Harvard-affiliated clinical psychologist and author of the best-selling book “The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age.”
Before age 2, children should not be exposed to any electronic media, the pediatrics academy maintains, because “a child’s brain develops rapidly during these first years, and young children learn best by interacting with people, not screens.
Parenting is tough. There are no breaks for parents and while there are millions of books and experts, none of them have written specifically about your little bundle of joy. We’re also in a new time where kids are learning in a new way and interacting with technology that we didn’t have just a few years ago. We don’t know exactly what the long-term affect will be. The thing is, technology provides a lot of great things for families. My teenage son uses Apples Facetime to hang out with his cousin everyday over the summer. His cousin lives two states and a twelve hour drive away. That’s pretty awesome. I couldn’t do that when I was a kid. His relationship will benefit from technology. At the same time there’s a lot of crap on the Internets. Stuff that is disgusting, wrong, or just a total waste of time. Handling it all is a tough task for a parent. We follow a few simple rules for technology that have helped us a lot.
1. Your friends are my friends. This means we get full access to the passwords, settings, and friends list for all applications, platforms, social networks, and devices. It also means that certain friends have to go (this is a great rule for couples as well).
2. Parents set restrictions. We have the iPhone and have turned off Safari. Extreme? Maybe. We replaced it with a custom browser from Mobicip that allows us to better tailor the browsing. We also set restrictions at the carrier level through Sprint and on the Wireless network through the router. Inevitably something bad gets through so we also talk to our kids about bad stuff using the book “Good Pictures, Bad Pictures.”
3. No technology alone. Phones and computers are used out in the open.
4. No technology at the dinner table.
5. People come first. Relationships at home matter most.
6. Technology goes to bed at 9 (though we do watch a movie on the weekends).
Our underlying thought is that technology is a tool. It can be used for good or bad purposes. It can be a negative addiction or a way to connect with people and learn new things. It really depends on how it is used.
Let me get back to personal finance for a moment. Is the RoboAdvisor always a good thing? I have Personal Capital’s app on my phone. It used to give me daily updates on my portfolio, but they turned that feature off. The logic was that it violated the spirit of their investment philosophy. Companies like Personal Capital and FutureAdvisor are taking a long term approach to investing. If you find yourself constantly checking your portfolio, you’re doing it wrong and your RoboAdvisor is getting in the way. Technology has it’s advantages but it shouldn’t be in your face. Rather it should give you greater confidence that you don’t need to constantly monitor market swings because you’re properly diversified.
What about your budget? Do you follow the set it and forget it model where you put the major pieces on auto-pilot and then stick to your cash account or are you in all the details, constantly updating your budget status? If it has taken over your life, maybe it’s time to rethink your method.
While it’s hard to see much of a downside to the RoboAdvisor now, I can see how it might be frustrating come retirement when you want someone to talk to about how to best withdraw your money. This is the one area where it would be nice to talk to someone. Currently, the companies that combine a real-live advisor with a RoboAdvisor are Personal Capital, FutureAdvisor, and Learnvest. It’s a nice touch, but even that has some limits. There remains a space where you want someone with you helping you. It’s always at the difficult moments. The death of a loved one. A child’s illness. Those are moments where it would be nice to be able to call someone and ask them to sit down and tell you how to access a death benefit or an emergency fund.
So the rise of our Robot overlords can be a good thing, but at some point, both kids and investors want a human touch. As parents we can step in and teach our children and help them. Hopefully someone is there to help you when you need to be saved from technology or brought back to investing reality.