What's a parent to do if their child's latest "excuse" for using his/her cell phone is "but I need it for homework?" With all of the articles, blogs (even this one), and websites dedicated to the use of mobile and digital technology, it is easy for a parent to throw their hands up and either have no technology boundaries or very tight ones. What is a reasonable amount of time to have access to technology at home? At school? Even schools vary in their philosophy and guidelines for student use. So what makes sense?
Having worked with students and technology for over 20 years, I have developed my own list of what works. Keep in mind, every parent has to do what is right for their family. While we don't want to set our students loose to the pitfalls of instant technology, they need experience in using technology appropriately.
- What is the purpose of the technology? If it is just cool - it can probably be put aside. If "everyone" is doing it...beware. Apps like Instagram and Tik Tok are "cool" and some teachers have found great uses for them. But there is an assumed level of responsibility on the part of the child. Keep a close eye on these two in particular.
- What is your child's true need? If school work is an issue - check with your child's teacher or school administrator. There is a compromise to be found! If homework is taking more than two hours (especially in junior high), sit down one evening with your child and track their progress. Are they getting distracted along the way? Are they organized or disorganized in their searching? Is technology truly needed or just an add on?
- What is your true need? If it is to be the "groovy" parent - shelve it. This is about them, not you. If it is about controlling your student's world, let's talk later. But I do caution the use of any technology without parent supervision. Trust but verify are words to live by in this day and time.
- If their need is about safety and effective communication - develop a plan and a contract. Especially for younger children. The contract can be amended as children get older. Set time limits and app limits. Know their passwords. "Friend" or "follow" them on apps like Instagram and Facebook.
- If it is about entertainment, great. Just keep a balance of other activities as well. They need intellectual, physical, and spiritual balance.
As stated before, there are many thoughts and guidelines about teens use of technology. The points listed above are what I have found to work - but they are not perfect. Grown ups are learning to find balance in their technology use too. Find what works for your family! Encourage each other, model for each other. Work together!
Dr. Misty Overman is the Head of School at Alabama Christian Academy. Dr. Overman has an Ed. D and M.A. in educational leadership from the University of Georgia as well as a B.S. in mathematics education. Previously she worked at GAC on academic and facility planning, advancement and fundraising, and learning initiatives such as K-12 academic support. Overman also serves as the accreditation director of the National Christian School Association in full partnership with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. Her work in technology integration has included conducting leadership and strategy sessions for Apple, Inc. in Cupertino, Ca., as well as in other parts of the U.S.