What can parents and teachers do to ensure that digital kids, with their hand-held devices, connected school activities, homework, and other online activities, get off to a good start at the beginning of the school year?
Back-to-school preparation is more than school supplies, lunch boxes, and carpool arrangements. It also involves reviewing and articulating connected-life expectations with family members.
To help you consider the issues in your 21st Century child’s digital life, and your own, use this nine-item back-to-school digital parenting checklist to get started.
- Make decisions about screen time in your family.
When and where will your children use devices at home? What limits will your family have for television, digital devices, and electronic games. If your child uses a personal device from school, are you aware of teacher expectations and time commitments? What else would you like your child to spend time doing? No matter how good your child is at coding or Minecraft, he or she also needs to do other things. A good article for parents and educators (and a great back-to-school piece to share with parents) is on the NPR website — Kids and Screen Time-What Does the Research Say?
Will your child work on assignments in public places such as family room, study, or the dining room table, or in a bedroom? HINT: Not the 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. It’s also great to share with kids, and an audio version is available. 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 each family member.
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, screen time, and downloading apps. Think about and share your ideas about 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 and far more effective if they occur regularly and not just when an incident occurs. While parents may feel like they are always behind when it comes to technical information, adults have maturity, perspective, and family values to contribute to the discussion..
- 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 devices at a location that is 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.
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. Think about device-free times when the family eats in a restaurant.
- 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 a digital device who then ignores family members. Ask just about any educator and you’ll discover kids notice and they talk, especially about parents who use digital devices while driving. Don’t become one of those parent digital habit stories that children share with their friends. Monitor yourself and your screen time and figure out what you need to do to model appropriate digital behavior.