Summer break is almost over, and children around the country are getting ready to go back to school. It’s an exciting time, but it can also be stressful as students anticipate who their friends will be, what their classes will be like, and how they will feel on their first day back. It can also be a trying time for parents, who face a growing list of challenges in today’s digital world as social media, mobile phones, and other technologies take on an ever-increasing role in their child’s life.
“For child health and well-being, screen time can be a double-edged sword,” explains Dr. Pamela Hurst-Della Pietra, founder of the international interdisciplinary research organization Children and Screens: Institute of Digital Media and Child Development. “We all agree that digital devices can be tremendously useful for information, communication, entertainment, and some social interaction. Adolescents can use the online world to explore peer relationships and develop their identities. Yet, this new digital childhood presents increased opportunities for addiction, isolation, social rejection and comparison, distraction, and digital cruelty. These experiences can contribute to anxiety, sleep deprivation, depression, decreased academic performance, and more.”
Children and Screens wants to help families across America have a safe and enjoyable school year. That’s why they encourage children to “LOOK UP” and ask parents to consider the following tips as they prepare for back to school.
L = Learning. Ensure that media use is targeted, thoughtful, and developmentally appropriate. It should actively support learning both in the classroom and at home.
- How much of the curriculum is online? Does the school offer digital citizenship and digital literacy programs?
- What special training do teachers receive for instruction using educational technology?
- What is the school’s cell phone policy? What is the school policy around cyberbullying?
- What content is accessible? Do in-school devices use child-friendly search engines and apps?
- Does the school enable firewalls and block inappropriate websites or distracting games?
O = Openness. Understand what digital tools your child has access to at school and how computers are being used in the classroom.
- Advise and guide your child on what is appropriate online behavior. Be open to discussing your child’s concerns.
- Be clear about what is acceptable online behavior, especially at school.
- Have an open discussion about the importance of avoiding distraction and keeping focused when using digital devices in the classroom.
O = Ownership. Give your child agency over his or her devices at home and in school.
- Explain the power of technology’s persuasive design to distract and attract. When in class or studying, notifications, alerts, and banners should be disabled.
- Encourage your child to keep his or her mobile phone in the backpack or locker throughout the school day.
K = Knowledge. Understand different aspects of your child’s online interactions, including video games, social media, online videos, and texts.
- Talk regularly about your child’s internet use including public (and private) profiles, the information he or she is learning about, and any problems he or she is experiencing online, such as cyberbullying.
- Teach your child how to be media literate and think critically about the information he or she accesses, including the source and intention behind the content.
U = Usage. Ask yourself what part of your child’s day is spent playing, learning, communicating, and being entertained on and offline, and for how long? Quantity, quality, variety, and the time, place, and manner of consumption all matter. Prioritize how you want your child to spend his or her time.
- Establish a healthy media diet with your child. Ensure usage is appropriately timed during the day and does not inhibit sleep, face-to-face communication, studying, or physical activities.
- Set device-free zones such as the bedroom, car, or dinner table to promote connection and conversation. Check with your school to see if there are device-free zones there as well.
- Lead by example: be mindful to limit your own digital media use around your child.
- Digital media use should be restricted for at least one hour prior to bedtime. Charge devices in a central location overnight and replace your child’s phone alarm with a traditional alarm clock.
- Utilize existing tools like parental monitoring and control apps to set boundaries and keep up to date on your child’s life online. Additionally, you can contact your service provider to disable your home WiFi for your child’s devices after bedtime.
P = Protection. As a parent, you need to be concerned about your child’s cyber safety at school as well as at home. Attending your school’s PTA meetings and talking with your district’s IT team are great ways to learn about school technology safety policies and procedures.
- How is your child’s online academic data being stored and used? Is the information being scrambled at the district level so that outside companies including educational apps cannot store, use, and share your child’s data?
- Teach your child to create secure passwords and online accounts that do not display personally identifying information, and discuss what is private and what is appropriate to search or share online, especially on school-owned devices.
- Model and guide your child to use caution when using another device, downloading files, connecting to public WiFi, turning on AirDrop, or visiting unknown websites to prevent spam, malware, and inappropriate content.
“Digital life is rife with both opportunities and risks for our children,” said Carrie James, PhD, Harvard Graduate School of Education. “It’s also here to stay. Supporting children and teens in this landscape means that we need to lean in to both the good stuff and the challenges. LOOK UP offers a valuable touchstone for parents as they navigate the what and how of parenting in today’s connected world.”
About Children and Screens
Children and Screens: Institute of Digital Media and Child Development is a 501(c)(3) national non-profit organization founded by Dr. Pamela Hurst-Della Pietra, who has spent her career in public service ranging from non-profit development, medicine and philanthropy devoted to children and adolescents. She started Children and Screens: Institute of Digital Media and Child Development in 2013 to provide a forum for researchers, clinicians, and other experts from a wide variety of disciplines to meet, collaborate, and share research; advance funding in the study of digital media’s effects on children; and provide parents and educators with the resources and answers they need to raise happy and healthy children in the digital age.
For more information about Children and Screens or to speak with Dr. Hurst-Della Pietra, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org