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Parenting Students with School-Assigned Devices

July 31, 2018 - Posted in Education by Adam J. Babcock
Parent observes child using a laptop

From our Educator Guest Blogger Series

As school districts roll out student-issued devices across the state and country, the new digital access is a blessing for schools.  However, many parents are not ready for the parenting that comes with sending a student home with a device.  Just because the school issues the device does not mean that parents should back down from providing expectations and consequences for the new device in the house.

Set Expectations

Many parenting and medical organizations suggest coming up with a sort of contract for any device use at home.  Use the questions and suggestions below to frame some of the conversations you should have with your student.

  • What work are students supposed to be doing at home?  Ask students to show you the tasks or activities that they need to do in your school’s learning management system (Edmodo, Google Classroom, Canvas, Schoology or PowerSchool are some common names for these systems).  If the activity is posted by a teacher’s name or emailed to the student directly from a recognizable teacher’s name, then you know they’re working on class or homework.
  • How much time should be spent on the school machine and other screens?  Set time limits and expectations for completion.  After seeing the task, communicate to your child how they can chunk their time.  (i.e. “Find x number of articles to use for that research essay before I check back with you in twenty minutes.  Be ready to tell me about them.”)  These same time-management strategies that teachers use during the day can be used by you, the parent, as well.
  • Where should students use their devices?  Keep all devices in the same room of the house and be in that room with students.  One parent has even suggested only having a wired Internet router so that you know when students are plugged in.  Have an “open and facing the door policy” for Internet-connected devices.  This way, you can always take a peek at what they’re up to.
  • When should students unplug?  When students go to bed; their devices should go elsewhere.  There is increasing research on the impact of screens on sleep, and very little science says anyone should be staring at a screen right up until they fall asleep.  Find a secure place in the house that students can leave their devices when you know students should be resting (mentally, physically, etc.).  That place should have charging capabilities so that both students and devices are recharged the next morning.  This is a good idea also for cell phones.

Technical Parenting

There are some technical solutions that you can put into place, but they should never be treated as a “set and forget” solution.  The ongoing conversations about appropriate use are key.  Nevertheless, you can back up your expectations with some of these technical solutions:

  • Many internet service providers (Charter, AT&T) offer a parental control option for their WiFi routers.  Most routers offer some method of limiting either content or the time spent on the Web.  Contact your provider for details.  If you don’t have these features, consider upgrading your router to a Netgear Nighthawk, which comes with robust parental control features. These systems are never foolproof, even when schools use enterprise-level services.  So, be ready with expectations and consequences for breaking those expectations.
  • Let’s go old-school!  Does your student really need the ability to roam entirely around the house to do his or her homework?  More controversially: does every teen who comes in your house need to know the WiFi password?  A parent at my high school told me he set up a room where students must physically plug in their machines.  That way, you know where your student is when they are on the Web in the house.  You can model good Internet behavior by also keeping your machines in there.  Then, your monitoring is only a glance over in the same room.  Keep in mind some machines might need an adapter.
  • Don’t forget: Your home WiFi is not the only connection to the Web in your house.  Many smartphones can be used in a “tethered” mode whereby the student’s school-issued device can connect to their smartphone.  Tethering has been known to thwart some school district’s attempts at filtering content at home.  Again, you might be able to contact your carrier to have tethering disabled. 

Need More?

If your school or district is not providing guidance, feel free to reach out to them as an advocate.  As the resident expert on technology use at my school, I have been invited to Sunday School or parent workshops to talk about smartphones and social media.  All of your school staff are members of your community, and you’d be surprised how valuable some forums and parent classes might be for your neighbors.

Even us experts have a hard time keeping up.  Fortunately, there are some organizations who are staying on top of trends for us.  Common Sense Media (https://www.commonsensemedia.org/) is a nonprofit organization run by educators and parents advocating for digital citizenship – that is, the responsible use of technology in and out of our homes and schools.  Consult the parent’s section of their Common Sense Media’s website to read advice and watch videos on raising children in these changing digital times. 

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Adam Babcock is a Technology Integration Specialist at Spartanburg High School in Spartanburg District 7.  In addition to being chosen as South Carolina's first educator to be named a PBS LearningMedia Digital Innovator when the national competition launched in 2014, Adam was recently inducted into South Carolina ASCD's Emerging Leader program.  Adam is certified as an Apple Teacher & Apple Learning Specialist, Microsoft Innovative Educator, and a ClassFlow Educator, and he has published research on using Google Docs in the classroom writing process. Prior to coaching teachers, he taught high school English and AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) in Illinois through traditional and project-based learning approaches. Adam received his BA from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; an MSEd in Instructional Technology at Northern Illinois University; and EdS in Administration and Supervision through Clemson University. Follow him on Twitter at @AJBabc. 

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