I’ve been asked by a wonderful parent organization called Konstella to serve as an expert for parents on topics of technology in the classroom. They started by asking a series of questions that were on their minds. These are so relevant and authentic to what’s happening today at the juxtaposition of education and technology, I wanted to share them with you.
The Questions are in bold and my answers in italics:
I allow my kids to have “Friends” in Roblox or Instagram and only chat with friends. However, it’s very hard for me to determine who is an actual friend in real life since all the usernames are made up. How do I go about checking so many “friends” and “followers”? My kids are age 13 and 10.
As a general rule, unregulated online friends are a really really bad idea. Your role as a parent is critical to preparing your children to go online before using social media platforms. Who your children meet on the Internet is not the same as the kids in the neighborhood or at school or on a youth sports team. You don’t know their goals, intentions, or even if they’re kids. Always believe you have the right to manage your children’s online activities be it time online, websites they visit, privacy settings, or friends they make. You can make rules and expect them to be followed. You can check their browser history and who their friends are without feeling like you’re spying on them.
Remember this: Few social media websites are vetted for age-appropriateness. This includes those you mentioned. Most social media platforms do enforce age limits but these are self-monitored. For Roblox and Instagram, it is 13+ (in some states this will vary, usually to the upside). WhatsApp has 16 as the minimum age (for EU users). Read the parental guidelines all social media platforms offer. Be transparent and show this to kids. Put your shine on as you help them understand that though this is not your decision, you agree with it and explain why.
It seems like more and more classrooms are using technology like Chrome Books and group screen time for doing exercises, learning art and reading. How much time per day do you think is the right amount for a child to be looking at a screen during school hours? Should schools implement a screen time limit that each teacher has to adhere to?
Let’s start this question with a poll. Raise your hand if you use your smartphone for more than phone calls. Wow, that’s a lot of hands. Well, that’s the model your kids have for screen time. So much of life has moved to smartphones–email, social media, home protection, banking–the list is almost endless. It’s hard to expect kids to unplug when you don’t. So reframe this issue. If kids are using technology for learning, don’t worry about screen time. What you might worry about is how to keep them focused on the appropriate websites and schoolwork. There are lots of ways to control that but I would address those in a different forum.
Right now, know this: If your kids are using available technology for education goals, to pursue college or career, education experts agree that your job is to teach them to use the Internet responsibly, not to keep them away from it.
My 13-year old daughter spent lots of time on Scratch. Sometimes, she worked on projects, but most of the time, she just chatted with her “friends” who she had never met but had done group projects with on Scratch. I checked the conversations. They were fine kid talk. However, I’m still worried about her safety online. What would you recommend?
Collaborating with friends on an online project is fine but chatting with friends while she should do schoolwork is never a good choice. Doing it while using a coding program like Scratch makes no difference. It’s like talking during class–not appropriate. Sometimes–often–kids don’t make that connection. Help your daughter understand that schoolwork time is for just that–not chatting with friends.
The nature of online friends–whether they’re friends from class or someone kids met online–is another issue and a big one. I discuss this some in another question but it takes much more for a thorough answer.
How should parents handle (on-campus and off-campus) cyberbullying that happened to their children?
Cyberbullying is a horrid situation that can permanently damage kids. They often feel like victims, as though they can’t do anything to stop it. There is no quick one-and-done answer to this problem but I can tell you a good place to start. Let your kids know they don’t have to be victims and there are strategies they can use to protect themselves and stop the cyberbullies. Remember that bullies, whether online or on campus, usually rely on intimidation. If scaring their potential victim doesn’t work, they rarely have a Plan B. Teach your kids strategies to fight back within the limits of what they’re comfortable doing. A popular method is called upstanding. Stand up to the bully by leaving the website, not responding, telling an adult, or not supporting the bully’s bullying of another person. Talk to your kids about bullies. There are great strategies I talk more about in the upcoming workshop.
How should we teach our kids about the things to watch for when they work online?
To many, explaining how to use the internet may feel like creating a jigsaw puzzle without the picture. It’s confusing with too many pieces and many adults don’t well-understand the intricacies themselves. A good starting point is to describe the digital neighborhood much like your personal neighborhood. It may seem like a tale of two neighborhoods but the rules are the same. Don’t talk to strangers. Look both ways before crossing the (virtual) street (meaning, be cautious as you progress). Play fair. Don’t be distracted by bling. Sometimes stop everything and take a nap. This approach takes the mystery out of a digital world that is invisible. Have this sort of discussion before your child ever goes online and repeat it consistently. This is not a one and done sort of conversation. Every time a situation arises–and they will, often–take time to discuss it, review, and answer questions, respectfully and lovingly. And then do it again the next time. Don’t rush. Don’t delegate that responsibility to others. You are the parent. If you have raised your kids with morals and ethics, you can expect them to make good decisions once they understand. Don’t give up on them.
It’s important to know that most education experts feel the best approach when dealing with kids using the internet is not to prevent them from using it but to teach them how to do it correctly. They are enthusiastic about this new world but don’t have the expertise to ‘drive the car’. That is your job.
More for parents on technology in the classroom
Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-18 technology for 30 years. She is the editor/author of over a hundred tech ed resources including a K-12 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum. She is an adjunct professor in tech ed, Master Teacher, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice, CSTA presentation reviewer, freelance journalist on tech ed topics, contributor to NEA Today, and author of the tech thrillers, To Hunt a Sub and Twenty-four Days. You can find her resources at Structured Learning.