I’ve spoken with parents from all over the country. One item that constantly comes up is “how do I know what I don’t know?” when it comes to raising kids in the digital age. While I always emphasize that tech or no-tech, parenting is still largely about relationships, communication, honesty, feedback, rewards and consequences. When you add a layer of technology to parenting, there are some additional items to be aware of and some “tools” you should have in your digital parenting toolkit. I created the Digital Parenting Bingo card as a way to easily show some talking points for parents that are dealing with either school-issued devices and/or personal mobile devices. Listed below are the talking points listed out in greater detail. Feel free to use and share with your community!
Devices in a common space – whenever possible, try and keep devices in an open, common, shared space. Even with the best filters, it’s a good idea to not allow devices behind closed doors.
Check filter settings – While devices are filtered on campus, they are on your network at home. Check your filter settings with your Internet Service Provider. Many provide free filtering software or you could use a service like OpenDNS or Disney’s Circle to help monitor and regulate activity on your home network.
Turn off devices 30 minutes before bed – The brain comes equipped with a circadian rhythm that adjusts based on the day-night cycle of the sun. In his TED Talk, Dr. Russell Foster suggests that ideally, you should turn off bright lights and screens at least 30 minutes before bed to get a better night’s sleep.
Use Guided Access for focus – In the settings of your iOS device, scroll to General->Accessibility. There you find a tool called “Guided Access”. Once enabled, it will lock the user into an app until unlocked. The code used for take the device out of Guided Access is different from the one used to unlock the device. For more information, check this support page.
Charge the device nightly – One of the most common issues that affects learning with mobile devices, is forgetting to charge the device at night. Investigate setting up a centralized charging station in your home and try to avoid having your kids charge their devices in their bedrooms.
Rules at a friend’s house – A new variable when sending your child to a friend’s or neighbor’s house are reviewing what their policies are when it comes to the internet and mobile device use. Review these rules with your child and, if possible, with the family he/she is visiting.
Know their account information – You should have access to all your child’s accounts and passwords. This shouldn’t be set up as a way to “spy” on your kids as much as it is to help with openness and transparency about what your child is doing and posting online.
Be a good role model – Do you tell your kids how to act with their mobile device, but then you demonstrate the opposite? Imparting wisdom on your kids is important and much of that comes with how you model those best practices when it comes to your own mobile device.
No devices at dinner table – With our virtual world continually intermingling with our face-to-face world, many families use dinner as a sacred “no tech” time. A time to have conversation, reflect and discuss the happenings of members in the family.
Spot check the photo roll – Many of today’s social media apps are very photo-driven. Periodically, spot check items in the photo roll and also which apps are accessing the camera on the device.
What happens if they come across inappropriate content – Even the best filters fail. If your child comes across something inappropriate online, discuss what steps they should take to communicate this to parents. Sometimes these can turn into teachable moments, but not if your child is hiding it from you.
Discuss how the device is being used – Ask your child to share examples of how he/she uses the device in and out of school. Doing this allows you to switch roles with your child as you become the learner and he/she becomes the teacher.
Who are they sharing their data with? – Even as adults, we often quickly read through the ToS (terms of service) agreements with companies that access our data. Be sure to review which apps have access to your child’s personal information. Also, make sure they are not sharing their account information with friends or people they meet online.
Balance entertainment with educational screen time – While there needs to be a balance of screen time versus non-screen time, you should investigate how they are using their screen time as well. Educational, interactive screen time has a more positive effect on the brain versus passive entertainment-based screen time.
Check battery usage for which apps they are using – If your device’s battery is draining too fast, or you want to “see” what apps your child is using regularly on their device, look at the battery usage under settings. It will detail which apps have been on the screen the past 24 hours and 7 days.
Set limits – The average person spends over 4 hours on their mobile phone. At times, kids will need help monitoring both how and how often they use technology. Work with them on setting realistic limits as to how much time they spend on their mobile device.
Check browser history – If you suspect your child may be visiting inappropriate sites, check the browser history in either Chrome or Safari. If you notice the history is blank or they have been surfing in “private” or “incognito” mode, you might want to have a conversation with them about what sites they are visiting and why they would want to hide those from you.
Create a techie agreement with your child— Rather than come up with a set of rules and limits for you child, work with them to create a tech or media use agreement. There are several examples of these on the internet that you can start with, but it’s important your child takes ownership in creating the agreement.
Enable restrictions if necessary— If your child is having a hard time focusing or using the device appropriately, you have the ability to set additional restrictions on the device. Here are steps on how to set up parental restrictions on an iOS device.
Balance between tech and non-tech times— Too much continuous screen time and sedentary behavior can be unhealthy for people. Part of being a responsible user of technology is knowing when to take breaks throughout the day.
Encourage problem-solving— We want our children to ultimately be self-sufficient. There are times when a website or app isn’t work they way it should on your child’s device. Before running to a parent or teacher, encourage your child to troubleshoot first and try to solve the problem on their own.
Keep device protected— The majority of device damage comes during transport between classes or between home and school. Use the district-provided protected case whenever in transit and be careful when tossing backpacks on the ground as the impact could damage the device inside.
What happens when they come across an online stranger?— Just like when coming across inappropriate content, you want to encourage your child to share with you if they are ever approached by someone online that they don’t know.
Spot check email and social media accounts— Having access to their accounts is one step, but also occasionally spot-checking email, text messages and social media accounts can help keep you informed of what your child is posting. Ideally, this would also involve a conversation with your child about transparency and not necessarily involve you “spying” on their accounts.
The above list and bingo card are NOT meant to be a substitute for parenting. While some of the tools allow you to check-in or “spy” on what your kids are doing, I would always encourage you to have a conversation with your child on being transparent about what they are doing and saying online and on their devices.
Our focus in education has always (or at least should always) been on the kids. They are the reasons the school building exists. However, we’ve blurred the lines in modern education between school and home. Once you start inviting technology into your school (via BYOD) or you start supplying the technology (via 1:1) you instantly put some pressure on parents to not only comply but be on board.
Where most districts fail (and where we failed initially) is that thinking a “parent night” type meeting or newsletter would be enough to notify parents of this disruptive change. I use the word “disruptive” here not as hyperbole, but to really drive home the point that many parents are not ready for the digital world that lies ahead for their teens. Whether you are doing any type of mobile device initiative or not, there NEEDS to be conversations taking place on your campuses about this from elementary through high school.
I feel like as a district, we’ve improved from the unidirectional communication methods to more of a collaborative conversation with our parents around technology usage and their kids. I’ve written in the past about our Digital Parenting 101 course. This semester’s 6-week course had over 130 parents involved and one of the best parts of the course is the discussion forums. As an administrator it’s such a blessing to be able to have insight on the struggles of the community with screen time, gaming addiction and social media troubles. It helps me stay informed as well as finding resources to help parents in this digital era.
Yesterday, we took the discussion a step further.
With the help of a parent (Jeff Brantley – father of 3 boys and a guru at facilitating discussion) and a couple of my team members (Tim Yenca and Kacy Mitchell), we started our first of many parent-led collaborative workshops. In the spirit of sharing, here’s just a few highlights and a fabulous infographic that Kacy designed to summarize the meeting.
Sticker Dot Activity (before the meeting begins) –
As parents walked into the meeting they were presented with some sticker dots. Around the room, we had posted the top 5 biggest issues for parents (based on the discussions in the iTunesU course and informal discussions with community members). Those 5 issues were:
We gave every parent 5 stickers and told them they could place as many as they wanted on the posters. In retrospect I would have only given them 3, which would have forced them to decide on just their top three topics. Doing this tells the facilitators which topics are the most pressing for the parents.
Following some brief introductions, we asked parents to line-up based on how “Social Media Savvy” they felt they were. I first saw this done by Tim Lauer at iPadpalooza last summer. Once the line was successfully flattened (they tend to group in the middle) we folded the line in half so that the least savvy person was paired up with the most savvy person. Once in partners, they discussed their views on social media both with themselves and their kids. After a few minutes, we had the pairs group into quads and continue the discussion. This served a couple of purposes:
1. It forced the parents to be in groups with people other than their friends, thus avoiding the “echo chamber effect.”
2. It opened up discussion amongst each other around ideas and strategies when it comes to social media.
Staying in their teams of 4, the groups then went to one of the 5 topic posters around the room. It worked out that there were 5 teams in the room, but you could have them combine if there are more. Once at their poster they were given three different color post-it notes to relay either strategies, problems, or quotes they hear around their house about these topics.
The discussions within these groups were incredible! After rotating every 5 minutes and insuring that every group had time in front of a station, we had them come back and regroup for a final activity.
Final Report Out:
Now that parents had spent time in at a station, we let them choose the one that they were most concerned with and regroup with “like-troubled” parents. The final group’s job was to discuss the problems and report out some final strategies that parents can use to solve the challenges presented. While we didn’t solve everything we did open up several connections within the community and came away with a wealth of discussion and resources.
Here’s an amazing infographic that Kacy Mitchell captured and created to synthesize the day’s activities:
I’m looking forward to continuing these parent-led collaborative workshops throughout the year and the data that they will yield. One word of caution is that it may be necessary to frame the day for parents prior to starting. Mentioning the goals of the workshop are to find solutions rather than ranting about issues would be a good thing. It could be easy for one or two parents to turn this from a positive experience to a negative one if they have an axe to grind so going over norms would be good.
Part of having any type of success in a school is to have the support of parents. While some schools can overcome a lack of parent involvement or support, most depend on the idea that “it takes a village” to raise a child. The same is true of any successful mobile device initiative. I’ve had over 50 talks/discussions/trainings with community members and parents in our district since the launch of the LEAP iPad Initiative in Fall of 2011, and that’s still not enough.
We’ve hosted panels of parents discussing their concerns and values with technology use. We’ve brought in experts on cyber-bullying and internet safety. We’ve even had back-to-school nights where we’ve invited parents to see and use the device as a child in the classroom would.
Knowledge is a powerful thing and lately, many parents are looking for more and more materials on what to avoid online, what to turn off and restrict, and how to help “stay ahead” of their kids digitally. The hard truth is parents will never be able to stay ahead of their kids digitally. Kids have more time and much less responsibility on their hands which means they can spend their free time trying to figure out ways to “game” the system and push limits.
As parents, our job has never been so important, but at the same time, so challenging. We must now manage the lives of our actual kids and the virtual life they portray online. One of my darkest moments during our 1:1 initiative was also one of my finest hours. Following a highly attended parent orientation, I was encircled by about a dozen angry parents asking why we were “doing this to them.” In their worlds, they (thought) they had control over screen-time, online behavior, obsessive gaming, etc. Now the district has placed a device in the hand of every student and completely disrupted that well-maintained home life.
As the parents pointed their fingers angrily and voiced their frustrations over this disruption…a strange smile crept over my face.
“HOW CAN YOU BE SMILING?!?” they shouted.
My answer was simple, “I’m actually happy we are having this discussion right here, right now, when we can all do something about it.” I calmly stated. “In a few years, when your child has left for college, there is nothing I can do to help them with their digital lives. But because they all have devices from our district, we can now join forces with parents to better educate our students. After all, we aren’t raising children. We are raising adults.”
Flash-forward a couple of years to this past spring. While parent turn-out at “Digital Parent nights” and various other events were good, we were still missing a large chunk of parents who couldn’t attend due to their own schedule. We decided to LiveStream several of these events, which helped with exposure, but I wasn’t sure we were really reaching those parents struggling to “keep up” with their kids.
After much bantering on my part, I finally decided to blackmail myself and set a date by which parents could sign up and be a part of an online course for digital parenting. Publishing that date and sign up forced me to create the course, hence “blackmailing myself.”
I created the course in iTunesU and did so for a couple of reasons:
1. iTunesU is super-easy to manage. The only time consuming part is gathering content and resources.
2. I wanted the parents to use their student’s iPad if possible to take the course. This helped model some of the educational expectations of the device at home.
So, on February 17th, I launched a 6-week iTunesU course titled: Digital Parenting 101. I broke the course into 6 sections and rolled out content each week to parents that were enrolled in the course (I ended up with 43 parents enrolled). My sections were broken out into the following categories:
Week 1 – Digital Wellness in the 21st Century
Week 2 – Internet Safety, filters, restrictions & security
Week 3 – Screen time & the Brain
Week 4 – Social Media & Gaming
Week 5 – Guidelines for the Household
Week 6 – Building a Digital Footprint
At the end of each week’s content (designed to take 2-3 hours a week), I gave a brief 10-question quiz to check for understanding. Parents that scored 80% or higher were emailed a ‘secret code’ that they would use to enter in the final exam to prove they completed each section. In addition, I used a free platform called Moot.it to create a discussion forum for Q&A and to stimulate some discussion over the weekly topics.
All in all, the course went very well, but still needs some room for improvement. I’ve asked the “students” in the course to email me feedback and will use that to craft the next course I offer in the fall.
That said, I’ve been asked by several colleagues to share the course with the public. So, with a little iTunesU magic, I duplicated the course, removed the links to the private forums, and made it public for anyone to use. I share this backstory and course with you in the hopes that you’ll continue to work with parents on educating them about their children’s digital future. I also find a course like this strengthens the bond between school and parent in collectively raising their child.
Tags: 101, children, cyber bully, devices, digital footprint, digital parent, digital wellness, eanes, filters, gaming, guidelines, ipads, kids, parent, parenting, restrictions, safety, screen time, social media, students, training