Read the 2016 updated version of this post.
It’s back-to-school 2015, a time to list the many tasks we need to accomplish before the start of the new academic year. We think about school supplies, new clothes and shoes, new lunch boxes, and, of course, new digital devices and computers. We check off our lists as we go, getting our 21st Century children ready to return to school.
Yet back-to-school season is also a useful time for parents to list, consider, and articulate connected-life expectations, old and new, for the coming year. What do you want your children to do or not do? How do you expect them to behave when a friend encourages behavior that is not allowed at home?
To help you consider the issues of your child’s digital life, and your own, use the eight-item checklist below to get started.
Will your child work on assignments in public places such as family room, study, or the dining room table, or in a bedroom? If a young student works in a bedroom, how will you monitor the distractions, especially when it comes to digital devices?
- Understand that multi-tasking may be a myth.
If you have not read Brain Rules, by John Medina, it is well worth your time, even if you just read the list of rules that describe how the brain works. Multi-tasking, you’ll discover, is something the brain does poorly. Instead the brain bounces back and forth, switching from music to email to the assignment, to texts, losing about 30 seconds during every switch. For many kids that adds to up to a lot of missed work time.
- Consider using a digital device contract or agreement with family members.
A contract or agreement with each child — there are many available — spells out the behavior that you expect to see as well as the guidelines for using mobile devices and downloading apps. Think about and share consequences (you can even ask for your child’s suggestions) before a problem arises. When something does go wrong, avoid draconian responses and give additional chances to live up to the agreement.
- Make sure that your family talks as much as possible about the digital world — the good (and there is much that’s good), the not so good, and the bad.
These family conversations are so much better if they occur regularly and not just when an incident occurs. While you may feel like you are always behind when it comes to technical information, you have maturity, perspective, and family values on your side.
- Know the apps that are on family members’ digital devices.
For many reasons, it’s good to keep an inventory of the apps on each child’s phone, tablet, or other mobile devices. Well into the middle school years, children should not have automatic downloading privileges.
- Set up a centralized family charging station for all your devices outside of kids’ bedrooms.
It’s well known that many children tend to stay awake with their devices, sometimes quite late into the night. Schedule a weekday and weekend home communication curfew, and charge all devices outside of kids’ bedrooms.
- Schedule family device-free activities — things for all family members to do together — when the devices are put away.
Schedule device-free family activities. Perhaps the evening meal provides a good opportunity for conversation or maybe your family will take a hike or work on a project together. These family times are critical when it comes to helping children learn how to listen, how to share ideas, and how to treat others respectfully.
- Model the digital behavior that you want to see in your children.
Almost every child, whether in pre-kindergarten, 12th grade, or anywhere in-between, can tell a story about a parent distracted by digital devices and ignoring family members. In my experience, kids notice and they talk, especially about parents who use digital devices while driving. Don’t become one of those stories that children share with their friends. Monitor yourself and figure out what you need to do to model appropriate digital behavior.
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