Families & the Community

One More Thing for Educators to Do: Teach Parents About Proper Use of Technology

By Alyson Klein — June 23, 2019 3 min read
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These days, schools have to do more than just teach kids to use technology—they have to make sure parents understand what’s going on in their students digital lives, too.

“We have an obligation to parents to help understand how to use technology,” said Rita Oates, the former district technology director for Miami-Dade County Schools, who now is now president of Oates Associates, a consulting firm, during a session at the International Society for Technology in Education annual conference here.

That’s especially true, she said, for districts with 1-to-1 initiatives. “If we’re handing them an iPad or handing them a tablet to go home” we need to teach them how to help their child use it responsibly, she said.

One way to make that happen: Family Technology Night. That could be its own standalone thing, or a session at another event, like back-to-school night, she said.

Oates suggested district leaders kick off conversations with parents by asking questions about their child’s technology use, their anxieties, and more. For instance educators can ask parents:

What’s your biggest fear for your child in this technology rich world? In general, families worry that their children may meet predators online, use their parents’ credit card to buy something without asking permission, share family information with strangers, see graphic or pornographic photos, share their own sexually-explicit photos, be the victim of cyberbullying, become distracted and neglect their school work, and more, Oates said.

Do you discuss acceptable behavior online with your children. At what age? What is acceptable online behavior? Mothers are more likely than fathers to report talking with their kids about appropriate online behavior, according to data that Oates shared. And parents who are less affluent are more likely to talk to their kids about appropriate online behavior than those that are more financially well-off. What’s more, Hispanic parents are more likely to talk to their kids about proper online behavior than their white or black counterparts.

Have you ever learned something from your children about your phone or tablet or laptop? Chances are parents will say yes here. Fifty-four percent of parents have learned something from their child regarding their own smart phone or tablet, according to data Oates shared.

Oates also suggested that educators talk to parents about how their own behavior with devices influences their kids. She suggested families consider instituting “device free dinners” so that children have a chance to connect and build their social-emotional skills through conversation with family.

And she recommended that school districts offer “book study” for educators on how to help children cope with the digital world. (One of her favorites: Screen Smart Parenting by Jodi Gold, which she said includes practical strategies for parents to monitor their kids’ device use and model good digital behavior.)

She also suggested some resources for schools, including the PTA’s Digital Safety Page, Common Sense Media, and stopthinkconnect.org, which she said has materials in a wide-range of languages on issues such as data privacy.

But despite all those suggestions, educators who attended the session said they still have a tough time connecting with parents on digital literacy.

For instance, the 9,500-student Flagstaff United School District in Arizona, has had a number of “family technology nights” over the years. But it’s a challenge to get parents to show up.

The district’s biggest tech night attracted just 35 parents. And one session only drew five, said Heather Zeigler, the district’s digital literacy specialist. That’s true even though the district offered food and free baby-sitting, and called around to make sure parents were aware of the event.

Zeigler would love to see 100 parents show up. After all, there’s so much families don’t know about tech, especially when it comes to gaming applications. “They don’t realize that their kids could be chatting with friends or strangers through those apps,” she said.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.