By Kerry Gallagher
A common concern I hear from parents is that their children know more about the devices and technology used in school than they do. Even parents who work in technology-rich careers may not be familiar with education technology. As a result, day to day monitoring of what their children are doing is awkward and difficult. Sometimes it isn’t until their child is hooked on a video game or social media platform that they initiate any discourse about healthy technology use. When families wait until there is something wrong to have these talks, it is bound to be tense and unpleasant.
Some parents have reached out to our school’s technology team to ask for advice on monitoring apps or software, parental controls, and other easy fixes. Our response to these requests is consistent with the message we have shared at parent orientations, parent council meetings, and parent webinars:
- Have proactive conversations about twice a month.
- Open these conversations by asking, “Can you show me how you use your Chromebook, iPad, laptop, smartphone to do school work?”
- Follow up questions might include, “What have you created?” or “How do you keep track of everything on this device?” or “Do you ever get distracted by text messages/games/social media when you’re trying to work?”
Much like parents have proactive conversations with their children about healthy eating, dressing appropriately, and how to treat others, parents can and should have proactive positive conversations about healthy technology use.
One parent recently contacted us – my fellow digital learning specialists Julie Cremin, Elizabeth Solomon, and I – to let us know that she decided to have one of these conversations and to tell us how it went. Here is her account:
Inspired (and reminded) by the Digital Learning Specialists/Super Heroes, I sat down last night with both of my boys to get a tour of their iPads. Fun!! One bonus that had not occurred to me was to do it with both of them at once. As my junior whipped through his apps, talking about features he liked about one or another, my freshman, kept interrupting: “Wait, how did you do that?” or “You can do that?!” I slid into the background as the junior started lecturing him on the importance of collaborating with his classmates by setting up group chats for every class, creating shared Quizlet decks (for world languages in particular), and arranging study sessions before and after school.
One item that stood out for me was the diagram below. My junior was studying physics with a friend before school. He has Mr. X, his friend has Mr. Y. My junior liked his friend’s Mr. Y notes, so he took a picture of them and put the picture in Notability. Then, during his Mr. X class, he took a picture of the board, and pasted it onto the same image (lower right corner). And finally, he had a few extra notes he wanted included, so he wrote them in himself (note the different handwriting on the right side that begins with ‘avg speed’).
My junior is a kid who struggled academically in his first year and a half in high school, and now he’s learned to harness the tools that are available to him to really excel (an A+ in Physics, and straight A’s and 1 B first quarter).
Thanks for the work you do!
No parental controls or monitoring apps could accomplish what they accomplished with this conversation. It is certainly possible that one of their sons may struggle with healthy technology use at some point in the future, but because these parents have engaged them in positive conversations about how they use technology for school work, it will be easier for them to have those tough discussions later. Their teens appreciated an opportunity to teach their parents something and will be more likely to share what they are doing in school moving forward.
As educators, let’s encourage our students to share what they are doing in school with their parents at home, and let’s communicate often with parents to give them conversation-starters to help them initiate those discussions. As parents, let’s practice what we preach with our own children and share our successes and struggles. Every family and school community is learning how to navigate this new connected era. Parents, children, and educators can work together to be proactive, positive, and to make progress.
Kerry Gallagher is the Director of K-12 Education for ConnectSafely, in addition to her full-time role as Digital Learning Specialist at St. John’s Prep in Danvers, Massachusetts.