What to Ask When Your Kid Brings Home a School-Issued Laptop

There are no silly questions when it comes to the technology your kid will be learning on. By Caroline Knorr 
What to Ask When Your Kid Brings Home a School-Issued Laptop

Good news, folks: You can cross off pencils and paper from your back-to-school shopping list. School-issued laptops and tablets are steadily replacing workbooks and practice packets. Yes, it’s exciting: a shiny new device kids get all to themselves; software that adapts to their level; and a much-reduced chance of mysteriously missing homework. But you may have mixed feelings — and lots of questions — about managing the device in your home (which probably already has a bunch of screens).

Schools handing out devices will almost certainly send home an information package with rules (called an acceptable use policy, or AUP) for the device’s use, including what the device can be used for and the consequences for misuse. But it’s up to you to figure out how this new device is used at home. Teachers and even other parents can help you work out any challenges you may face. Here are some common questions parents have when kids bring a device home from school.

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 appswebsites, 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?
You may have heard about schools keeping tabs on students at home, but that’s extremely rare. No one should be spying on your kid through the device. However, educational apps do track user data to tailor the learning experience to the individual user; anything more than that indicates a poor privacy policy. And teachers may have a dashboard that uses data to report how a student is performing. Also, aside from the apps your kid uses, the teacher may use social media to post photos and other class updates. If so, find out how student privacy will be protected. In all cases, any information that’s collected should be for educational purposes, and companies should not be able to use or make money from student data. (See our student privacy resources for teachers.)

Ask for information on the school’s student privacy policy, including whether they vet the privacy policies of the apps they assign to make sure they’re not over-collecting data. (Learn more about Common Sense’s student privacy initiative.)

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.

How to Have Honest Conversations About Social Media with Students

Common Sense Media

When young people feel seen, heard, and respected, they will want to engage.

January 11, 2018

Rosalind Wiseman

Founder, Cultures of Dignity

Who hasn’t sent a text or email to the wrong person? Who hasn’t posted something online they later regretted or seen something in their feed that made them uncomfortable? These are difficult moments for people, no matter their age, and it’s natural to be unsure what to do. But the most common advice young people get about social media is usually limited to “Think before you send” and “Once you post something, it’s always there.” These clichés may be true, but they don’t help young people address the situation they’re in.

If you work with young people in any capacity, you are also teaching social media norms and expectations. But what do norms mean in the context of social media? Norms are a standard or pattern of social behavior that is typical or expected of a group. Our social media use is still so new that we are all trying to figure out what our social media norms are and should be. From when we use it to how and where, we are all trying to figure it out as we go.

We start by looking in the mirror. We must reflect on how we use social media ourselves. What is true for our students is also true for us.

When it comes to issues that impact their lives, young people are equal to us in subject-matter expertise, if not more so. But this is easy to forget. When we do, we miss the larger context and therefore the opportunity to actually accomplish our goals: teaching them how to apply critical thinking to the information they receive, recognizing when it is being used to manipulate their opinions and perceptions, defining what responsible social interactions online look like, and developing awareness about how its use can impact their sense of self and understanding of the world.

So how do we do this? We start by looking in the mirror. We must reflect on how we use social media ourselves. What is true for our students is also true for us. Social media is a constant social exchange (for better and worse), a way to maintain important connections and relationships, a place to find support and share interests with like-minded people (especially when you can’t find it in real life), and a source of information that profoundly impacts the way you see yourself and the world around you.

Reflecting on Your Own Experiences

At Cultures of Dignity, we believe that successfully teaching any kind of social and emotional learning requires teachers to ask themselves the same questions they ask their students. Before initiating a discussion with your students on topics of responsible social media use, take some time to reflect on your own experiences with this exercise:

Part One:
Put a check next to the question if you can answer “yes.” Have you …

  • Posted something, then checked repeatedly to see how many people liked it or made a comment?
  • Accidentally sent an email or text to the wrong person?
  • Been in school when someone showed you a post about you, a colleague, a parent, or a child that made you feel sad or anxious and didn’t know what to do next?
  • Had a friend or someone in your family post something that made you really upset and affected your relationship with that person?
  • Now write down a few sentences that describe your experiences and feelings to any of these questions.

Part Two:
Look back on your social media posts of the last six months and ask yourself the following questions:

  • If a stranger saw the posts you just looked at, what would they think about you?
  • What do you want people to think about you and your life?
  • How accurately do your online posts and interactions reflect what’s going on in your life?
  • Do you take steps to protect your online privacy? How important is privacy to you?
  • Is the way you handle conflict online similar to the way you handle conflict in real life? Are you proud of how you conduct yourself in either or both contexts?

Bringing Your Reflection into the Classroom

Now take a step back and remember that the majority of young people are extremely skeptical about anything we tell them regarding how to use social media. We have to show them that we are doing the work we are asking them to do. We have to show them that we acknowledge we are affected by social media too. So no matter what you teach — math, social studies, Spanish, language arts, or computer coding — sit down with your students and say something along the lines of:

I know I’m your math teacher, so technically my responsibility is to teach you math, but I also want the time we spend together to be good. And I know that I can be the best math teacher in the world, but if something comes through your phone that upsets you, you’re going to have a really hard time focusing on what I’m teaching you. I’ve been thinking about the technology rules we have in the school and in the class. I want to take a few minutes of our class time to dig a little deeper because I think it’s more than me nagging you to put away your phones and not being mean to someone. So we’re going to take 15 minutes to answer a few questions and then have a discussion. This doesn’t have to be the only time we talk about this. If what we do seems like a good use of time, let me know.

You can do the same exercises above and then have a discussion. Share some of your own insights — which shows them that you don’t think you’re above these issues because you’re an adult. Your goal is to approach the topic from a place of curiosity instead of blame and judgment. From there, you can fine-tune your class agreements about how social media is used in and outside of class.

Remember what you know: When young people feel seen, heard, and respected, they will want to engage. When they see that you hold each of them to high standards and you implement those standards fairly, they engage. When we admit adults’ hypocrisy, they engage. And when they are given a voice to express their own experiences and opinions, they will hold themselves to higher standards then we can ever impose.

Apps to Help Keep Track of What Your Kids Are Doing Online

Though open communication is best, these tools can help parents who want a little extra control.

Christine Elgersma Senior Editor, Apps| Mom of one 

Senior Editor, Apps| Mom of one
Apps to Help Keep Track of What Your Kids Are Doing Online

As kids become more independent, we want to foster their sense of responsibility and give them room to prove themselves. But it can be difficult to navigate this natural separation, especially when kids are doing who-knows-what on their devices. There are constant questions: Where are they? Who’s contacting them? What are they doing online? Since tweens and teens are often tight-lipped about their lives, it can be tricky to get clear answers.

Though direct communication is always best, and the conversations around online safety and digital citizenship should start long before a kid becomes a teen, there are occasions when parents feel it’s necessary to monitor what kids are doing on their devices. Maybe they’ve broken your trust or you’re worried about their safety. Whatever the case, there are tools to track what your kid is up to. Be aware that spying on your kid can backfire and that kids can find a way around just about any type of tracking. But if you’re at the end of your rope or just need extra help managing your kid’s digital life, then one of these tools might work for you. To get more information, check out our advice about cell phone issues, including basic parental controls, and less invasive (and expensive) ways to limit access to content.

Bark: Similar to VISR (see below), kids and parents need to work together to hook up accounts to the service. It also analyzes all device activity and alerts parents when a problem is found. If they get an alert, parents will see the content in question and get suggestions on how to handle it ($9/month).

Circle Home and Go: This app manages the Circle with Disney device, which pairs with your home Wi-Fi and controls all Wi-Fi-enabled devices. Can create time limits on specific apps, filter content, set bedtimes, and restrict internet access for the whole house or for individuals. Circle Go will let parents filter, limit, and track on networks outside the home Wi-Fi (the Circle device is $99, the Circle Home app is free, and the Circle Go service will be $9.95/month).

Limitly: If screen time and specific app use is your concern, this system might work for you. It lets you track your kid’s app use and limit time using the device or certain apps (free, Android-only).

Pocket Guardian: Parents get alerts when sexting, bullying, or explicit images are detected on your kid’s device, though you won’t see the actual content or who it’s from. Instead, the alert can prompt a conversation, and the app offers resources to help ($9.99–$12.99/month).

Trackidz: With this program, you don’t see specific content from your kid’s device, but you can track app installations and use, block browsers and apps, manage time in apps and on the device, block out device-free time, grant bonus time, track location, get an alert when your kid’s phone is turned off, and see your kid’s contacts. It also claims to detect cyberbullying by tracking when your kid’s device use drops dramatically, which can indicate avoidance. Setting up a geo-fence lets parents track a kid’s location and alerts them when a kid has gone outside the boundaries, and a kid can tap the power button to send an emergency message to parents (currently free, but will be $6.99).

VISR: For this one to work, a parent needs the kid’s usernames and passwords, so be aware that it’s easy for kids to set up dummy accounts. Once enabled, the tool analyzes posts and emails for bullying, profanity, nudity, violence, drugs, and late-night use and sends parents alerts when anything iffy is detected (currently free, but will be $5/month).

“How Should Schools and Parents Be Involved in Kids’ Online Lives?”

How Should Schools and Parents Be Involved in Kids’ Online Lives?

 

By Matt Levinson

Parents are constantly grappling with how to deal with online privacy issues with their kids. Issues about whether to share passwords to email and social media accounts, whether to filter or monitor Web sites, and how much leeway to give kids of different ages as they experiment with their online identities.

Because kids spend most of their time at school, it’s not unusual when questions about these issues come up at school but have to be dealt with at home — and vice versa.

A recent example presented itself when a parent discovered that her middle-school-age daughter was interested in a social network site called Zorpia, which bills itself as a site to “share unlimited photos, post journals and make friends.” She found out about it by reading her daughter’s email, a policy they had both agreed to.

But after reading a review of the site, the mother was concerned about whether it was too risky to allow her daughter to interact with strangers online. She wrote to the daughter’s school “in the spirit of keeping the school abreast of what is going on off-campus” and with the goal of “educating more parents about the types of sites that exist and what are some good, common-sense ground rules.”

The goal is to maintain open communication, explaining to kids the responsibility that comes along with having an email account.

This incident brings up a few complicated issues, including whether parents should be reading kids’ private emails, and how parents should deal with open social media sites.

But even before addressing those questions, should schools even be involved in this conversation? Is this an issue for each family to sort out among themselves? One of the reverberating effects of online life is the fluidity of the connection between different environments, and with an instance like this, school and home become inextricably tied. Off-campus activity plays out on-campus, at recess, in the lunchroom and on the bus. Word travels quickly, both verbally and through texts and emails, and some schools prefer to become a part of the conversation in order to help parents and kids build a safe community, online and offline.

PASSWORD PRIVACY AND SAFETY CONCERNS

When it comes to deciding about kids and parents sharing their passwords, the most important goal is to maintain open communication, explaining to kids the responsibility that comes along with having an email account, and the need to ask an adult for help if the child feels uncomfortable with the nature of any online exchange. It’s a big responsibility, though, and changes with a kid’s age. Is it too much to ask of a 10- or 11-year old to know what’s worthy of alarm?

Some kids and parents decide the parent can have email access, but as kids get older and want more independence and privacy, those agreements may change. Some parents and kids agree to keep kids’ password in a sealed enveloped, promising only to open the seal when there’s a question of safety. Others figure out an arrangement with a parent’s close friend or relative with sound judgment who has emergency access to the email. The goal is to let kids know they’re not alone.

Whether kids under 13 are ready for open social media sites like Zorpia is another thorny issue. Zorpia has more than 24 million users, and a large international community, which could provide a great way for kids to interact with other kids from across the world. But reviews of the site mention plenty of criticism about unsolicited and inappropriate messaging when its privacy settings blocking strangers are not in place.

Bottom line: Kids are curious. They hear about a new site or tool and they want to find out what it’s all is about. It can be exciting and enticing to enter into a social network, and it’s important to acknowledge that interest with kids. Facebook is flooded with millions of under-13 users and kids are going to want to explore social networking.

But rather than instill unnecessary fear of stranger danger, when talking with kids about privacy, anonymity and creating online identities, a few questions to ask:

  • How would you respond if a stranger tried to contact you through a social media site?
  • What would you do if you found out that one of your friends was talking to random strangers?
  • When would you go to an adult for help if something uncomfortable happened?
  • Why are you interested in social media sites?
  • Where do you find out about them? What do you friends say?
Matt Levinson is the Head of the Upper Division at Marin Country Day School in Corte Madera, Calif. and the author of From Fear to Facebook: One School’s Journey.