At the beginning of the school year, what can parents and teachers do to ensure that digital kids — with their hand-held devices, connected school activities, homework, and other online endeavors — get off to a good start?
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 and working together to set up a family media plan that works for each person in the family.
Below are a few issues for parents and educators to consider as they seek to maintain quality in kids’ 21st Century digital lives during the 2019-2020 school year. Raising strong and competent digital citizens requires teamwork and immense effort — at home and at school.
1. Make decisions about screen time in your family. Altogether, as a family, figure out your plan and then think about how you will re-address your decisions as the year progresses. Check out the 2018 article, How Much Screen Time Affects Kids’ Bodies and Brains at Forbes. Family issues to consider might include:
- What limits will your family set up for digital devices, electronic games, and television?
- If your child uses a personal device from school, are you aware of specific teacher expectations and time commitments?
- What else would you like your child to spend time doing?
- 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?
2. Schedule family device-free activities —that all family members can do together — with the devices put away.
- The evening meal provides an opportunity for tech-free conversation — check out The Dinner Tale Project. Or maybe your family can take a hike, work on a project together, or read a book aloud. These times help children learn how to listen, how to share ideas, and how to treat others respectfully.
- A new book, 24/6: The Power of Unplugging One Day a Week, by author and filmmaker, Tiffany Shlain, will come out in September 2019 and looks like it will be a timely and engaging resource for parents and educators.
3. Decide where children will work on homework.
- 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 many potential distractions that decrease study time?
4. 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 a great resource 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 lots of missed work time.
- Identify fact-checking sites and use them when questions come up about the news.
- Talk about information credibility, misinformation, and disinformation with children in your family.
- Also see Media Literacy, #11, below.
6. Consider using a digital device contract or agreement with each family member.
- A contract or agreement with each child — there are many available — that spells out behavior expectations as well as the guidelines for using mobile devices, screen time, and downloading apps.
- Share your ideas about consequences (be sure to ask for your child’s suggestions) and do this before a problem arises. When something does go wrong, avoid draconian responses and offer additional chances to live up to the agreement.
7. Talk as often as possible about the digital world — the good (and there is much that’s good), the not so good, and the bad. Even if you do not possess as much digital knowledge as your child, you do possess the parenting skills and the values.
8. Know the apps that are on family members’ digital devices. Some start out as fairly innocuous activities, but they can transform, over months and years, into sources that involve bullying, creepiness, or even hate and seek to involve your child in those extreme expressions.
- Well into the middle school years, children should not have automatic downloading privileges.
- For many reasons, it’s good to keep an inventory of the apps on each child’s phone, tablet, or other mobile devices.
- Check out How to See What Kids Are Doing on Their Phones over at the Kim Komando website.
9. 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.
10. Model the digital behavior that you want to see in your children. And please, please remember that reading aloud is one of the most important learning activities that you can do with children of any age.
- Almost every child, whether in pre-kindergarten, 12th grade, or anywhere in-between, can tell a story about a parent who is distracted by a digital device and unintentionally ignores family members. Kids have remarkable insight.
- Monitor yourself and your screen time and figure out what you need to do to model appropriate digital behavior. For instance, how often do you share your child’s picture online without asking for permission?
11. Take time as a family to become familiar with good media literacy practices.
- A 2016 NPR article, Fake Or Real? How To Self-Check The News And Get The Facts, is still timely. Or check out the Common Sense Media page, Turn Students into Fact-Finding Web Detectives.
- Tell the teachers at your child’s school about the free media literacy curriculum materials — for learners in grade 3 through college — at NewseumEd.org. They are excellent teaching resources.
12. Work together as parents and educators to keep digital citizenship and digital wellness information front and center. You want to do everything possible to ensure that children and adults in your family develop robust digital skills that will help them to knowledgeably traverse the digital world challenges that they encounter.
Best wishes from MediaTechParenting.net for a great start to the 2019 – 2020 school year.