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Schools Must Foster Parent Conversations About Students and Digital Devices

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With most school leaders looking to add more web-enabled devices to their schools and classrooms, they are all but certain to get questions from parents within these communities who will raise concerns about the fact that their students will be dealing with more screen time in their day.  While some may be quick to respond that we are just setting up environments for students to replicate the realities of the gadget-driven workplaces that our students will soon be inhabiting, it is important to take some time and have community-wide discussions about the topic of screen time. These conversations can help reduce anxiety for parents who see their children inhabiting classrooms that have technological resources quite different than what they experienced.

Increased conversations will help parents put into perspective alarming headlines that come out regarding the negative consequences of using electronics. Sometimes the most important takeaways from these headlines can be found well down the page, a place many do not see. One such headline appeared this past week in a New York Times article by Jane E. Brody titled Screen Addiction Is Taking a Toll on Children. While I am sure the headline is accurate in regards to the state of children and their time spent on devices, a passing glance at the story and the first three paragraphs of the article only gives enough information to scare people away from device use.

Therefore in my third paragraph, I will introduce my two biggest takeaways and bullet them below:

  • This is not a new problem: Television remains the dominant medium.
  • According to a Kaiser Foundation study, many parents seem to have few rules about use of media by their children and adolescents.

These bullets tell me that the most meaningful intervention we can make as school leaders is to offer support to parents to assist them in navigating the overwhelming new world of parenting in the digital age. This is not an area where parents can look back at how they were parented for experience: they are traveling this course with no roadmap. We need to bring parents together and let them share their successes, failures, and fears of parenting digital natives. While there is a great deal more to discuss on this topic, it is critical that school communities share openly about the pros and cons of students being able to connect anywhere, anytime. My recommendation would be quarterly parent forums on topics surrounding digital tools where parents have an opportunity to learn and share. In Burlington, our educational technology team runs multiple Parent Technology Nights throughout the course of the school year to foster these important conversations. 

Access to new technologies is far from a panacea, but it is also does not need to be viewed as the demise of our future generations. The best advice I have on figuring out the delicate balance in regards to screen-time for our children comes from my friend Beth Holland. I shared Beth's three simple questions that should be asked before deciding whether a child needs to be in front of a device in a post I wrote titled A Great Conversation on the Technology Concerns of Parents Regarding 1:1. The three questions are as follows:

  1. Is it appropriate?
  2. Is it meaningful?
  3. Is it empowering?

If we can get our students to ask these same questions before they decide to bury their faces in a screen, we will be on the right track!

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