Kids and Tech: The view from the homefront

Kids and Tech: a powerful combination.

I wrote this post as a guest blog for Shady Side Academy’s faculty blog. Check it out on their website! — PMK

In addition to my work with student learning, one of my areas of expertise is educational technology. Previously, I worked at Schools of the Sacred Heart, San Francisco,  a K-12 independent school where I worked in our girls’ high school. There, I served on our school’s Technology Advisory Committee, which helped guide our faculty as we adopted a 1:1 iPad model in our classrooms. In Spring 2011, we started work on what our roll-out would look like. What would teachers need to know to use iPads in the classroom? What choices should we make about the apps we’d like kids to use? And finally, what would this mean for families? Suddenly, our school had asked our families to take a big leap of faith with us: we had asked families to bring these devices into their homes and help their kids understand how to use them appropriately. We realized that advising parents on the devices would be just as important as advising our faculty.

Whether kids are using devices for school or for fun, they’re using them constantly, and it can be tough for parents to help their kids appropriately navigate their devices. Here are my top three tips for how parents can best guide their kids’ technology use.

  • Have family rules about technology use. Some apps out there let kids and parents monitor their smartphone use. Consider installing one of these apps to take a closer look at what you use and how you use it. Make it clear what sites are okay for your family to use and what sites are not. Make rules about social media, like setting accounts to private and limiting what you post. Make clear rules around how devices get used at home: where does the phone live while kids are doing homework? Where does the device live at night? Consider charging your family’s devices in a central, shared location—like the kitchen or living room—rather than in kids’ bedrooms. And consider having a device bedtime—a sort of “Do Not Disturb” setting for your home—with strict boundaries for when device use stops for the night.
  • Talk with your kids about what they’re doing online. This could be as simple as talking about what they’re up to in Minecraft or as complex as discussing what social media they’re using. Make it an expectation that they’re accountable for the time they spend on their device: whether your kids are clicking through Instagram, browsing Wikipedia, or playing Trivia Crack, you as their parent are entitled to know about it. Let kids know that they can—and should!—always talk to you about what they’re seeing online so you can help them understand good things they find (like an educational video they’re watching on Ted-ED or Khan Academy) and avoid the bad. Let your kids know that you’re there to listen, to talk, and to guide, and that they can approach you with their questions no matter what. This might mean you hear a lot about Skylanders or silly memes for a while, but it also means you’ll have a good context established for when they need to discuss something more serious.
  • Model good tech habits at home, at work, and in the car. Earlier this year, we had a terrific speaker visit the Academy to talk about the dangers of distracted driving. My six freshman advisees were so moved that we composed a letter to their parents. My students wrote: “You are the most the most important role models in our lives. We want to encourage you to take this issue as seriously as we are today. Please don’t drive distracted, whether you’re alone in the car or we’re with you. We love you.” Model good tech habits with your own tech habits: put the phone down in the car, at the dinner table, and in line at the grocery store. Make it clear that in-person conversations matter, and show them that it’s possible to be without the constant stimulation of a smartphone.

For more great tips, check out these helpful websites. Common Sense Media is a San Francisco-based nonprofit that reviews media for children. They have great blog posts and parent guides on this subject, including guides to navigate cyberbullying, screen time, and media messages for girls and boys. Full disclosure: I work for Common Sense as a writer and assistant editor on Graphite, their website for educators. I review apps, websites, and games for teachers on the site, and I really believe in Common Sense’s mission and point of view.

Closer to home, check out the great TV program from WQED, iQ: smartparent. This locally produced, nationally acclaimed series features experts on education, child development, and parenting. It’s a thoughtful show with tips and tools you can use today, and I highly recommend it.

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