Today’s children are bombarded with opportunities to communicate, learn, and play by using technology. Our parent educators are challenged with how to best respond to parents’ questions regarding technology use for various age groups of children. Summarized below are considerations that teachers and school administrators can integrate in their parent-teacher-student conferences:
- Define what constitutes technology in the home. Typically, parents define technology use as the actual time that a child uses a computer, an electronic device, a tablet, or a smart phone each day. Added considerations should include the viewing of television, streaming movies, and playing electronic games and toys. When considering this broader definition, it is overwhelming how many hours that children are engaged using a technological device each day. Some preschoolers or elementary school children may be using these devices over eight hours a day. Middle school children, high school students, and college students who communicate via texting may be using technology most of their waking hours. When talking with parents, we typically encourage parents to limit their children’s use of technology outside of the school day for only one hour each day. This time limit ensures sufficient time for children to participate in face-to-face interactions, exercise, homework, participate in extra-curricular and community service activities, and finish household chores.
- Unplug from technology. When parents limit the use of technology in the home, there is more time for family discussions and to play family games. When we take care of our grandchildren, we limit television watching and technology game playing to one hour a day. Our added time is spent playing outside, playing cards or board games, and planning after school activities. We also love to create art projects and cook. Adults can share their knowledge and pastime activities; Grandpa may spend quality time helping a grandchild build a Lego robot or complete a simple woodworking project. Other times, I may listen to a grandchild’s story and transcribe it for the child. Or, the child and I will research upcoming family outings and trips together. We must always be sensitive to the impact technology has on our daily activities and monitor the use of technology as our grandkids love to play with our phones and computers.
- Encourage parents to model balance in their lives. We often have parents and their children complete a typical daily schedule in our technology use parent workshops. We distribute a bar chart that parents and their children complete with specific activities that they may engage in within a twenty-four-hour period at one hour intervals. A parent may find that they sleep an average of seven hours a day, commute and work ten hours a day, complete personal and household chores for two hours a day, and play and eat with the family two hours each day. That only leaves three hours to exercise, participate in hobbies, watch television, read, answer emails, and spend more time for self or family. When students complete their charts, they have little time for outside play and family time beyond their typical nine-hour school day in addition to homework time. Sadly, many teens sacrifice homework time and family time for texting. Many children text throughout dinner and while visiting. Previously, car time with parents was an ideal time for children to talk with their parents. Now texting and technology have displaced that beneficial activity. As more research is conducted on the impact of technology on families and home life, there continues to be alarming trends reported on how families do not have time to talk to each other and their children. This breakdown in communication can have an added negative impact on social, emotional, and physical health.
- Have students and their parents create a time management chart of how they use their time daily to determine a balance of weekly activities. When considering the limits on family time, many parents have started posting the weekly family schedule on a white board in a central location in the home. Parents designate when children can use their smart phones in the home and may not allow children to use them in the car when driving back and forth to school, at meals, or after dinner. Additionally, parents may discuss the daily family schedule during dinner each night to coordinate and plan for added family time. Many families have a designated family movie or game night on Fridays, family errands and sports team participation for the children on Saturdays, and family projects or play dates on Sundays. Each evening, many parents review homework with their children after dinner or in the early morning before school. Time can be spent for family reading of books in addition to individualized reading at bedtime. When parents guide their children to manage their time as a family instead of in isolation, children tend to cooperate more and participate in family time.
- Parents should be proactive in engaging in their children’s academic learning and social-emotional growth in a world of technology. As parents become more confident in partnering with their children in their academic activities at school, parents can expand their technological skills with their children by applying statistical software applications to various garden projects that can be organized like science experiments. Examples may include how different garden plants respond to various intervals of watering schedules to save water during droughts. Parents and their children can use imaging software to create art from digital photos and video clips. Children and their parents can create public service announcements using smart phones on topics such as removing various types of stains on clothes and present the benefits of using different types of laundry detergents or spot treating clothes before laundering. Parents can help their children GPS applications to track bicycle excursions and hikes. Many activity monitoring apps can be used to measure elevation change and a hiker’s pace on a trail in addition to distance. Children and their families can track data in their participation of various team spots in spread sheets. Data can be compiled on the best routes to use when running errands to save time and gas. When parents model effective uses of technology to support healthy lifestyles, their children learn to use technology and contribute to the family and their community.