When should kids get their first cell phones? How can I keep kids safe as they use the internet? How much screen time is too much? These are just some of many common questions parents and caregivers have about technology in their kids’ lives. Parents — and educators — are grappling with how best to guide kids in a digital world, and they have anxieties and uncertainties about the role media and technology play in kids’ lives.
Schools and educators have a great opportunity to help parents guide kids to think critically, behave safely, and participate responsibly in the digital world. This is called “digital citizenship.” Schools are integrating digital citizenship to help kids avoid the perils and embrace the possibilities of technology and to provide parents with advice and strategies on parenting in the digital age. Susan Bearden’s book, Digital Citizenship: A Community-Based Approach is a great guide to digital citizenship in schools, and includes a chapter on educating parents.
Helping kids be good digital citizens is one of our goals at Common Sense, and we provide free resources for parents and educators. You may be at a school that is already integrating digital citizenship and engaging parents. Or you may be wondering how to get started. The following four tips cover ways schools can help parents navigate these murky waters, highlighting our free, high-quality resources for parents and schools.
1. Help parents make informed decisions.
Schools can provide information to parents to encourage them to make informed decisions about media for their kids. Think of media and technology like food. Kids should eat a balanced diet of healthy foods. Similarly, kids should consume a “healthy diet” of media. This means balancing screen time with other activities and limiting what I call “junk media” (low-quality shows or apps that have little value for kids). Here are ways you can help parents make informed decisions:
- Share our ratings and reviews with parents. Common Sense rates movies, TV shows, books, games, apps, and websites to help parents make the right choices for their kids. We even offer an app for on-the-go information.
- Parents are also looking for teachers to recommend educational apps for kids. This is where our educational apps and game reviews are helpful, along with our edtech ratings and reviews for teachers. Consider recommending to parents an “app of the week” for their kids.
- In addition, to address some of those common questions mentioned at the beginning of this article, our Parent Concerns center provides helpful advice and videos, which can be searched by topic and age.
2. Bring parents together for meaningful conversation.
After doing parent education and outreach for many years, we’ve figured out what works and what doesn’t work. In our research and in focus groups with parents, we’ve found that it’s not really effective for schools to provide a “one and done” parent night each year, with a speaker covering all things having to do with internet safety. Not only is it information overload for parents, but it also does not allow them to share their experiences and concerns and focus on specific topics.
Our free, yearlong Connecting Families program includes everything parent facilitators need to encourage their schools and communities to use connected technologies in ways that are both fun and safe. The program includes a step-by-step hosting guide, conversation topics (topics include managing screen time, digital footprints, cyberbullying, and more), and printable resources to share with parents.
Bringing together parents in conversation — whether at an event or a daytime “parent coffee” — is important to allow parents to voice their concerns, share strategies, and focus on dealing with specific issues. I recommend schools survey parents at the beginning of the year about issues they’d like to know more about and build a yearlong program around those topics. Parents will have more interest and buy-in knowing their concerns have been taken into account. And if you do host gatherings for parents, keep in mind incentives — such as child care, raffle prizes, and food — to get them in the door.
3. Make the home-to-school connection.
As kids communicate and collaborate in the digital world, behavioral challenges inevitably come up. From oversharing online, cyberbullying, and plagiarism, both schools and parents are responsible for guiding kids to make good choices. But the lines are blurred: What happens at home affects school, and things that happen at school can affect home. This is why parents and educators need to work together to help kids be good digital citizens. As students are taught digital citizenship in school, engage parents on those same issues.
Each one of our Digital Citizenship Curriculum lessons comes with an accompanying parent tip sheet. A third-party study on the impact of our Digital Citizenship Curriculum in middle school found that students who talked to parents about the curriculum topics reported better outcomes overall, including increasing online safety behaviors, stopping themselves before sending a mean message, and helping a friend who was being cyberbullied.
4. Communicate with families using multiple channels.
Long gone are the days when a handout in a child’s backpack was the main mode of communication. Nowadays, busy parents can be reached via Twitter, Facebook, text message, a school website portal, and, of course, good ol’ face-to-face when dropping off or picking up kids. But the point is, schools need to engage and reach parents using multiple channels. Here are some various ways you can communicate with parents to share our resources (you can find these in the Family Toolbox of Connecting Families):
- Send home our Family Media Agreement. One of our most popular downloads, this document is a kind of contract between a parent and a child around expectations with media and technology use. It’s a great call to action at the end of a parent event to encourage parents to go home and talk with their kids about media. Parents can post it on the fridge or a bulletin board and refer to it when necessary. It’s also available in Spanish.
- Embed our parent blog on your school’s site. Parents love our blog, which includes advice and top media picks for kids. All you have to do is copy and paste the embeddable code into your school’s webpage HTML, and voilà! You’ll have a constant flow of new articles for parents.
- Remind. Remind is a tool with which teachers can text and chat with students and parents. We’ve partnered with Remind to offer a Digital Citizenship Starter Kit. The kit contains one week’s worth of content, activities, and tips to help introduce parents to Remind’s two-way chat while communicating the importance of digital citizenship. The kit outlines a week-long schedule with a daily age-appropriate digital citizenship lesson, an activity that teachers can send to students via Remind, and a tip that teachers can send to parents via Remind. It doesn’t get more turnkey than that!
At Common Sense, we know how important it is for educators to work closely with parents in helping kids think critically, behave safely, and participate responsibly in a digital world. What other resources or strategies have you tried? What are you interested in trying this school year?
Common Sense Education is a free service that helps educators find the best edtech tools, learn best practices for teaching with tech, and equip students with the skills they need to use technology safely and responsibly. Go to Common Sense Education to explore ready-made lesson plans, videos, webinars, and more.