Whether your children attend school in person or are virtual learners, there’s a lot of tech that needs to be managed. Grade reports, online assignments, communicating with teachers – it's a lot for already-busy families to keep straight. And that doesn’t begin to address the issues surrounding recreational use of tech or social media.
Experts note that while technology is a wonderful thing and makes learning possible in ways never before imagined, it does take some ground rules to keep kids on task, safe and productive in their studies. Like anything else concerning your kids, these ground rules should be age-appropriate and flexible enough to change as the situation calls for. Most of all, parents need to be able to enforce the rules, providing regular follow-up and accountability.
Here are some suggestions by age group for getting your kids off to a fast – and safe – start this school year:
It’s amazing how young kids are able to function online and through tech devices these days. It sometimes seems like they were born with those devices in their hands, which isn’t that far from accurate these days. Which makes issues of cybersecurity and Internet safety as important as “Don’t ride with strangers,” or “Don’t run with scissors,” has been for generations.
Cyber Sensible offers the following three suggestions for managing kids’ tech at the elementary school level:
- Use parental controls on home devices to set content restrictions, age restricted access, contact interactions and time limits. (Kinetic's security packages offer parents easy ways to do this.)
- Bookmark homework help, classroom connections and approved resources so they are easily accessed. Add educational apps and games to support learning.
- Establish separate rules and time limits for homework using technology and video games. Don’t include homework time in your overall screen time limits, they will rush through their homework to get more time for their games.
Middle School/Junior High
By the time kids get to middle school they are already pretty tech savvy. Hopefully, you have started the conversations about cybersecurity long before this point, but the messages bear repeating. Kids in this age bracket typically have their own phone, so managing their usage becomes essential.
Healthy Children.org suggests the following:
- Make your own family media use plan. Media should work for you and within your family values and parenting style. Used inappropriately or without thought, media can displace many important activities such as face-to-face interaction, family-time, exercise and sleep. Make your plan at HealthyChildren.org/MediaUsePlan.
- Treat media as you would any other environment in your child's life and establish parenting guidelines. Set limits, know your children's friends, both online and off, and know what platforms, software and apps your children are using and what they are doing online.
- Screen time shouldn't always be alone time. Co-view, co-play and co-engage with your children when they are using screens. This can be tricky at this age; but stick with it. Don't just monitor them online; interact with them so you can understand what they are doing and be a part of it.
The typical high schooler is really comfortable with technology – in many cases, moreso than Mom and Dad. More than that, the curriculums at many high schools are tech-forward, recognizing that many of the jobs of the future will entail far less manual labor and much more tech savvy. At the same time, kids at this age are stretching their wings and testing their boundaries. This is a natural part of life, but can have tragic consequences online.
Your Teen Mag.com offers the following advice on the very delicate dance between playing the parent and letting kids assume more independence and responsibility online.
- Research shows the No. 1 impact on children’s behavior is parents’ behavior. When it comes to technology, parents who don’t disconnect from gadgets cannot expect their teenagers to do otherwise.
- There’s a lot of pressure to fit in in high school and having a cell phone is one element of that. It’s up to the parent to drown out the roar of the popular crowd and determine what is best for their individual child. Wait until your tween or teen is mature enough to use any device responsibly, especially cell phones.
- It’s your job to have some idea what your teenagers are doing with their devices, but you should level with them about what you’re doing as a sign of respect. Stress that your expectations, follow them on Instagram and Twitter, and tell them if you feel it’s necessary, you will spot-check their texts or email. On the other hand, establish and abide by a line of privacy for your teen where you lurk, but don’t snoop.