Thank you so much to the parents and presenters who are joining us for the Parent Technology Forum this evening. Rather than create slides for everyone to view on a screen, my goal is to create a conversation; a mirror for what I hope is happening in the classrooms and homes of students at The Episcopal School of Knoxville.
Do we support technology? Yes! Access to a world of information is truly a game-changer for learning. Students can gain real-time perspective on events and people that are shaping our history, watch spacecraft landing on comets, and talk with peers halfway around the world. They can work on projects together, share interactively with teachers and design original, 3D printed tools and projects.
Do we need to be careful with technology? Yes! The quickest growing age demographic on Tinder, the hook-up app, is 13-17. 1 in 5 teenage girls has sent a nude selfie. Preschoolers spend as much as 4 hours per day in front of a screen, while screen time is linked to sleep disturbance in 6-12 year olds. Teens are increasingly obscuring their identity online on sites like Tumblr and using anonymous interaction apps such as YikYak and ask.fm.
So what do we do? In my experience, communication is hands-down the most effective tool. It may sound overly simple, but no app, site or class can substitute for honest – and constant – conversation. Start at square one: walk through each device with your child. Are there parental restrictions? iPads have many, including Do Not Disturb and YouTube safe search options. Data capable? If so, your child can gain unfiltered internet access regardless of the controls on home or school wifi. Group gaming options? You can turn those off on most devices, too. Step two: app and site accountability. If they download an app, you preview it. If they use a social media tool, you have the account information. Stick to the age requirements on a site. They are there for a reason; ten-year-olds are not prepared to deal emotionally with the social ramifications of selfies, tagging and anonymous comments on their posts.
Step three: it’s not one and done. Continue the conversation. As your child grows, so will his or her social circle. A sixth grade girl may have high-school aged siblings at home, which may in turn impact the tenor of her text and social media interactions. Stay plugged in and keep asking questions. Finally, don’t be afraid to set limits. Kids can’t unsee inappropriate material or unlearn the kind of language they aren’t ready for. Set digital curfews and abide by them as a family. Show your children how to block friends who consistently use media in ways that don’t fit your family’s values.
Remember, you’re not alone. I hear from parents all the time who feel overwhelmed and intimidated by technology, from XBOX to Google Drive, Skype to Snapchat. Use the many resources available to you including technology faculty at your child’s school, Common Sense Media’s online resources, and other parents. Create a group of parents who share regularly about technology issues in their families’ lives. You’ll be surprised how powerful communication can be in navigating the wide-open ocean of technology in our kids’ lives.
Sources: commonsensemedia.org; Huffington Post (11.14.14); ricepsychology.com; commercialfreechildhood.org