Yesterday in the grocery store check-out line three parents chatted about the devices their children take back and forth to school. When you are cooling your heels waiting to pay for the food in your shopping cart, it is difficult not to listen to the various conversations occurring around you.
Essentially the parents asked one another how they were monitoring what their middle school children do on their laptops during homework time. All three adults sensed that while their kids were working on their homework they were also engaged with other apps (like social media!). When they inquired, their offspring always said they were doing school work. The parents weren’t so sure.
I did not jump into the conversation, but after so many years working in educational technology, media literacy, and digital citizenship I sure wanted to join the chat. What was most interesting to me, however, is that all three parents expressed a sense of exclusion, thinking that they had no role to play and should not offer guidance to their children (or at least that is how their children seemed to make them feel).
That’s too bad because parents play a significant role in students’ digital lives, always monitoring in the background and aiming to ensure that devices are used well. The goal is to help their children become stronger and more competent digital learners and citizens.
So here are my thoughts about who’s in charge:
- Most elementary and middle school students with school digital devices need at least some guidance at home, though often not of the technical sort.
- Every digital device that moves between home and school has a team of three custodians: the student, the school device administrators, and the student’s parents. Yes, parents may inquire about what’s going on when a child completes homework on a laptop or tablet.
- The school provides student training (and sometimes for parents) about acceptable use and behavior, and usually each student signs an agreement. Educators want the agreement enforced and reinforced at school and also home, so they welcome a parent’s questions. They also want parents to keep an eye on what their children are doing (but not do the work for them).
- To reinforce expectations parents can post a copy of the acceptable use agreement in a prominent place at home. This may be a good time for everyone in the household to work together to create a family media plan.
- If a parent senses that something is not right, it’s fine to communicate with a teacher to learn more about the context and content of a child’s homework.
- Asking a child to explain what windows/apps are open and how they relate to homework if just fine — if you have a concern.
- Once in a while, if a child is uncooperative or not doing homework, a parent may take charge of the device for a short time.
- Multi-tasking is not an effective learning strategy. Read Multitasking May Be a Myth Says John Medina.
- At the beginning of the next year, use homework study spaces that are not in bedrooms. Check out Nine Digital Parenting Back-to-School Tips – 2016 (With Printable PDF)
When students bring home school digital devices to use as learning, their parents are part of a team. The long-term goal is to help their children learn more effectively and understand more life and learning in the digital age.