What Teachers Wish You Would Ask Them About Screen Time, Tech, and Internet Privacy
"No TV until your homework is finished" used to be the easiest way to separate school work from screen time. Today, with IMs, YouTube, texting, and social media, that boundary is super blurry. And because middle and high schoolers often have media and technology as part of their lessons and take-home assignments, it's tough for parents to know where to draw the line. Fortunately, the folks whose job it is to prepare kids to take on the world (including the digital one) know all about managing screen time, multitasking, online privacy, and even using tech tools at home. And they know your tweens and teens pretty well, too. Teachers -- who are on the front lines of the tech-infused school day -- are experts at helping families manage this stuff so that kids can learn. Here are the questions teachers wish you'd ask about the issues that affect students the most.
How much non-school-related screen time should I allow on a school night?
Rather than allotting a certain amount, first list out everything your kid needs to do in a 24-hour period. Assign a time limit for each activity -- for example, 30 minutes for chores, one hour for physical activity, 45 minutes for reading, 20 minutes for dinner, etc. Don't forget to add 9 to 12 hours for sleep! In the remaining time, figure out how much can be used for screen-based entertainment. It will probably vary throughout the week. Try the American Academy of Pediatrics Family Media Plan to calculate a schedule that works for your family.
How can I curb my kid's multitasking during homework?
In the classroom, teachers who use tech often have to personally monitor students to make sure they're focusing on work, not fooling around on their devices. Depending on your existing rules and systems around internet use, you may want to visually monitor what your kid is doing on the device, install filters on your home network, or step in only if you think there's a problem. Your internet service provider may offer filters, as well as other features, either free or at an additional cost. There are also software programs, such as OpenDNS, that allow you to add filters to your home network.
What will the school device be used for?
Schools have a number of online learning options. Those that implement a 1-to-1 program (meaning every student receives their own device) should have a well-thought-through plan for how these devices will be used in the classroom and for homework. They may assign a few apps or implement an entire curriculum. Depending on whether your school chooses a little or a lot of technology, your kid may be using the device only for lessons and practice work or following specifically sequenced modules for, say, an entire language arts or math class. Some schools simply use the devices to interact on a shared platform, such as Google Classroom (which you can read more about on our educator's site), for group collaboration, and writing and turning in papers.
If you don't understand what the devices are being used for in school or at home, make sure to bring these questions to back-to-school night or contact the teachers or administrators individually. If you don't get satisfactory answers, bring your questions to the PTA or the wider community.
How much time should my kid be spending on the device for homework?
Are students expected to do all their homework on the device, do only some of their homework, or use only a few apps? The answer will give you a good idea of how much time your kid should be devoting to online and offline work. Just as in pre-device days, teachers generally use grade level as a guide for how much homework to assign. If you think your kid is spending too much time on the device for homework, check in with the teacher to better understand his or her expectations.
One of the advantages of online work is that it can track how a student is doing. Some apps time kid's sessions, which gives teachers feedback on an individual student's proficiency -- even on individual problems. If you have that data, you can get a gauge of whether your kid is on track, stuck on something, or possibly dillydallying. If your kid is consistently taking more time than the teacher recommends, keep an eye on their progress to determine if it's the homework itself or if they're watching YouTube videos, playing Fortnite, or chatting in another browser window.
How much time will my kid be spending on the device at school?
When school-issued devices become a part of your kid's life, it can add up to a lot of screen time. How teachers use the devices at school can be fairly individual. Find out if the teacher plans to have students using devices a little, a lot, or somewhere in between. If the 1-to-1 program is a school-wide initiative, students may use them more. If the devices are unique to your kid's class or grade, they may be used for a more specific purpose. Some teachers use technology to supplement other work -- so just a portion of a class is device-based. Some teachers take advantage of technology's data processing and only use it for quizzes and tests. Knowing approximately how much time -- and for what purpose -- your kid is using a device during the day can help you better manage their overall screen time and make sure it's balanced with physical activity, face-to-face conversations, and fresh air.
What apps is my kid using -- and why?
It's perfectly reasonable to ask what apps are on the device, how they were selected, and what the learning purpose is. There's a huge range of educational apps, websites, and games available, and teachers may use a variety of ways to find the ones that will really benefit kids' learning. Some teachers have a lot of latitude in choosing software. Some teachers must use a particular platform. Some teachers attend trainings to learn about new software or even how to implement programs in the classroom. Teachers also share tips and ideas about educational apps with each other online. During a discussion of the apps kids will be using is a good time to ask the teacher about his or her own philosophy about technology in learning.
Are there parental controls or filters on the laptop -- or can I install them?
When kids use the school's Wi-Fi during the school day, the network is filtered, meaning they can't access inappropriate content such as pornography, information about illicit substances, and even games. But when they come home, unless you have filters on your home network, the gates to the internet are open. You probably won't be able to download parental controls (or any other software) onto the device (administrators typically disable that capability).
Depending on your existing rules and systems around internet use, you may want to visually monitor what your kid is doing on the device, install filters on your home network, or step in only if you think there's a problem. Your internet service provider may offer filters, as well as other features, either free or at an additional cost. There are also software programs, such as OpenDNS, that allow you to add filters to your home network. Before your kid begins using the school-issued device, you should review the school's rules (often you both will need to sign a form saying you did this) and make sure your kid understands your expectations around safety, privacy, and responsible online behavior. Also, be aware that filters sometimes catch too much, preventing your kid from visiting legitimate research sites, and kids can also sometimes figure out ways to get around the filters.
Does the device track student data -- at home?
Can my kid download anything on the device?
An administrator usually disables download capabilities so nothing can be installed except the learning tools. However, your kid may still be able to play games, chat, and use social media on the device's web browser, since those services don't require a download. The device is the school's property, and anything you put on it -- including photos -- may violate the AUP, so check the rules. And if your kid has their own device at home, you may want to reserve the school device only for homework.
My kid never gets off his device, and when I ask him to, he says he's doing homework. What can I do?
No matter what comes home from the school, your house equals your rules. That means you can still establish screen-free times and zones like dinnertime and the bedroom. You can make rules about when devices get shut down at night and where they're charged (outside of kids' bedrooms!). And if you think your kid is doing more than homework on his device, you can discuss the downsides of multitasking and your expectations around what the school device is being used for. If you're still struggling, bring your concerns to the school -- you can talk to individual teachers, administrators, or other parents to find solutions.
It's a good idea to reduce or eliminate multitasking because it really takes a toll on learning -- and and drags out homework duties. Set up a homework zone in a common area where you can keep an eye on their activities. Make it device-free if possible -- although sometimes kids legitimately need them for study apps or for checking assignments. Keep devices out of the bedroom, because texting and sleeping is about the worst multitasking kids can do. If they have to use devices and you can't closely supervise, consider downloading a parental control app that limits access to entertainment during homework, such as unGlue. You can also enable Restrictions or Guided Access on iPhones or use Google's Family Link on Android devices to help keep kids on task. But you'll probably still need to spot check.
What do I need to know if my kid has to download an app or register for a site for homework?
What should I do if I find out about cyberbullying by kids in your class?
Teachers definitely want to know if there is cyberbullying happening. Ideally, kids are learning about digital citizenship either on its own or in the context of their instruction (for example, a team project using Google Docs that students have to collaborate on), so it should be something that is discussed and dealt with. Tell the teacher -- or have your kid report it -- so it can be worked out using the school community's conflict resolution methods, just like any other problem affecting students. Teachers can keep an eye out for more of this behavior in school. They should also have clear systems in place to monitor and moderate any class activity online for inappropriate behavior or bullying.
How can I use technology at home to support in-class learning?
Nearly every app for kids in the app stores is labeled "educational," but not all of them are really good for learning. If you're looking for tech tools that you can use to support your kid's in-class learning at home, think of three broad categories: instructional tools that teach academic subjects; creation tools that let kids express themselves; and communities that offer a supportive, collaborative sharing space. These can be apps, websites, games, design programs, and social worlds. Here are some to try: