Parenting can be difficult at the best of times. More and more schools are requiring all their students to bring a device. Seems like a cop-out on the surface. If technology was so important to learning why wouldn’t schools provide it, like they used to? And, how can we as parent manage the devices in a way that our families are not put under even more pressure than they currently are by the influence of media and technology? These are good questions so let’s explore them.
Times are changing and as we all know so is technology. Technology is simplifying and making our daily tasks more efficient in many ways. It makes sense that technology could add value to the learning process. Schools are seeing that technology can increase engagement, bring new learning opportunities and increase achievement. I say ‘can’ deliberately as it is not a given, but that is another story. From the perspective of a school leader who has seen technology being used to add much value to the classroom, it is important to recognise that asking parents to provide devices for their children can add pressure in different ways to our family. Firstly, obviously there is the financial perspective and secondly is the complexity of managing devices and the internet at home…as if parenting was not complex enough.
Implemented well, investing in technology is exactly that, an investment. Technology has the potential of having a very positive effect on your child's education. A study by Hull University outlines further that the 'ownership' model (child gets to take the technology home with them each night) of technology doubles the effect that technology will have on their education.
There are several factors that will determine if technology integration at your child's sc
hool will be effective. These variables include the types and number of different technology in your child's classroom, the professional development your child's teacher participates in to effectively integrate technology and the most important variable, your child's teacher. Is the teacher using the technology to ‘replace’ pen and paper but still only doing tasks are designed to be completed with pen and paper, or has the teacher used what the new technology is capable of as a basis for the new tasks she assigns the class to? The effective use of technology in schools is an interesting and complex topic but I leave you with this image. In New Zealand we had an advertisement which included a man walking up to a tree. In preparing to chop down the tree he takes a broad stance and takes a big back swing. At the last moment we see that he is not holding an axe, which would have made sense, but he is actually holding a chainsaw. He was used to chopping down trees with an axe so he transferred that knowledge to how he used a chainsaw. We all know that is not how a chainsaw is designed to be used. There are many teachers who have new technology in their classes but are engaging new technology in the classroom in the same way they engaged the old technology.
Now to the second question: How do we as parents actually manage these devices and internet at home. As a school hold an evening for parents called, ‘Keeping Your Child Safe in the Online Jungle’. This evening has the sole purpose to empower parents to make meaningful decisions about their child's use of technology at home. I have presented the evening to many audiences in New Zealand and have now published an iBook that covers the content. Chapters in this book include;
The book is intended to be a buffet of ideas. Do not try to implement everything. Just like a buffet, if you try everything on the menu you will become bloated and no longer able to function. Pick and chose the ideas that will work best for your family. The following are some ideas from the book about managing devices at home.
As parents, it can be helpful to think of the internet as a giant new city that you have never visited before. If you were to visit that city it is unlikely that you would leave your young child on their own late at night. You would want to stay with them and maybe let them loose in one shop at a time and would give them a safety spot to meet you if they did not feel safe.
Once your child understood the layout of the city and where they could go that was safe you would likely give them a bit more freedom.
Create an expectation that devices are to be available for inspection at any time. As the parent, you will need to have access to your child’s passwords. Best not to have ‘regularly, scheduled’ inspections - make it random.
Help your child understand that it is not because you ‘do not trust them’. This is about accountability and accountability does not exist because of an absence of trust. Accountability is all about protection! Accountability gives people the opportunity to show how well they are doing and can safeguard them in the event that they are beginning to go down a track that leads to difficulty without them even realising it.
EXAMPLE: In running a school the principal is TRUSTED to do it well. However, every year school accounts have to be audited and every few years the school inspectors visit to see how things are going, this is the ACCOUNTABILITY factor.
While not completely foolproof, the browsing history on a device is a great way to monitor where a child is going on the internet. However, it is incredibly easy for anyone to clear the history on a browser. One simple rule is that if the history has been wiped OR if the device is on ‘Private Browsing‘ (explained later) the device will be removed for a time. (explained in detail later).
NB. It is possible to delete specific instances of websites. To this end, the history monitoring should not be the only mode of monitoring if you are concerned about where your child is going online.
One of the most common complaints of parents with children with devices is that they keep their child awake at night. The easiest fix to this is to keep the charging cables in your own bedroom with the expectation that all devices are charged in your (i.e. the parents) room each night.
A great source of ideas is other parents. If they have children of the same age as your children it is really likely that they are facing the same issues as you and may have found a suitable solution. However, remember as per the early quote, you have a different test paper (family/children) than them so what works for them may not work for you.
This is big! While you might go to the extreme in setting up your home internet like Fort Knox it is all in vein if your child can access the internet through their phone (and believe me they most likely can). Set rules around this and understand this. It is VERY easy for a child to set up a ‘hot spot’ with a smartphone and access the internet on any internet capable device through it.
NB. There are products that can monitor and restrict browsing in this manner which will be presented later in the book.
This is such a good idea! If you are unsure about ANYTHING your child is doing on the internet - ASK THEM. I heard someone say the other day ‘I quit using Facebook the day my mum asked me to be her friend on it!’
If you are not sure what the hype of Instagram is and your child is using it, ask them to show you what makes it so amazing. I know teenagers don’t always jump at the opportunity to help in this manner but you could always ask! If you have no luck with your child explaining it access the Vodafone parents ‘Get a Grip’ portal. This is highlighted later in the book.
One of those difficult things in life is that while we may put all sorts of measures in place at home, there is always that moment when your child goes to ‘sleepovers’ or visits to other homes the same rules do not apply. Once again, the key is trust and accountability.
I often hear that it is difficult for parents to invoke rules for their children and ‘their device’. The issue of ‘ownership’ is something that is important to consider when ‘giving’ a child a device. This year one of my son’s has started to bring an iPad to school to broaden his learning opportunities. Rather than ‘Buying him an iPad’ we bought another iPad for the family and have allowed him to use it for his learning. This way we have no issues with ownership, us trying to tell him what he can or cannot do on HIS iPad!
Take a look on the internet and you will find many incentive plans for children. The blue sticky note (from dailymail.co.uk) lists four jobs that a child needs to complete in order to gain the WiFi password. The other lists a ‘point system‘ which children can complete to a certain value as a part of a consequence. This could be adjusted for time on a device.
As a parent I would like to think using activities that encouraged outdoor, creative or positive behaviour as the basis for an incentive plan is a great idea.
When setting time limits and or dealing with issues of ‘misuse’ consider that the device is like a Swiss Army Knife. It can be used in many ways. You may like to have tight limits around the ‘entertainment’ (gaming, YouTube, Social Media...) aspect of the device. However, it is important to remember children can be very creative on the device creating content (movies, music, sound clips, design...) and it can also support new learning through creative and engaging Concept Reinforcement (Mathematics games, Spelling games, Reading challenges...).
An important key to successful management of these devices is not to ‘ban’ the whole device because the limits of entertainment are pushed may take away opportunities for your child in other more important areas. For example, if your child wrote on your table you would unlikely ‘ban’ the child from using a pen at school the next day. Likewise, if I caught my child reading late at night, after I had told him to turn the light out, I have the choice of ‘banning’ that book the following day (which is most likely) or I could ban him from all books for a time.
Through the use of ‘Guided Access’ on an iDevice it is very easy to give the child access to just one app such as ‘Mathletics’ without worrying that they will change the Concept Reinforcement’ time and made it car racing time!
Maybe consider different time allowances or rules for entertainment (gaming) use over content creation and creative usage.
ie. no entertainment during the week or 20 min gaming or 40 minutes creative usage per day.
Parents download the ‘Keeping Your Child Safe in the Online Jungle’ iBook here:
Educators download the ‘Hacking at Trees with Chainsaws’ iBook here: