Family Team Time

It will come as no shock to most parents that a significant amount of time per week is spent running children from point A to point B and back again. What may be shocking, however, are the actual statistics surrounding the average family’s carpooling and chauffeuring routine. Research shows that, by the time children reach adulthood, parents will have spent almost 200 days behind the wheel running their kids from place to place.

Now, as much as educators, parents, and students embrace the notion of extracurricular activities, there are alternative ways to shape interests, take part in cooperative learning, build relationships, and experience new things. Perhaps it is time to consider putting a halt to the daily grindwith family team time.

Not to spoil the concept of extracurricular activities—as a teacher, I know that extracurriculars can truly changes students’ lives—but there are also some factors to consider when it comes to the many activities that children participate in. Clubs, sports, camps, classes—all of these activities add up, both monetarily and in terms of time commitments. For families with multiple children, the desire to keep kids consistently “doing” can prove to be a costly, time-consuming, and even stressful undertaking. Family team time, substituting extracurriculars with engaging family activities, could be a great alternative to try this winter. Simply put, family team time is anything that the family does together for enjoyment. Below are options to try in place of signing up for another round of extracurricular activities this winter

  • Considering our proximity to D.C.’s many museums, theaters, and other cultural hubs, there are countless engaging options for your family to experience together this winter. Especially as the holidays approach, options will be plentiful: festivals, concerts, plays, ballets, and other performances. Consider taking in a show, visiting a museum, or simply touring the neighborhood’s Christmas lights. Plan ahead by checking Groupon and other sites for deals on attractions, discounted events and performances, and student rates. Museum visits are a great free option to explore art and history with the whole gang—not to mention, they are a great place to escape from the bitter winter weather while still stretching your legs. 
  • Afternoon matinees can prove to be a wonderfully inexpensive way to get the family together for a few hours of entertainment. Another option is to have a weekly family book club, in which every member of the family reads the same book. Once a week, make some popcorn, get comfy in the living room, and discuss the recently read chapters. Once everyone has finished the book, consider renting the movie version, as many young adult and family novels have been adapted to film. After the movie, encourage a mock-film study, in which you talk about how the movie and the book are similar or different, and which one each person preferred. Then, allow someone else to choose the next novel/movie combination. Keep the weekly book talks going until everyone has had the chance to select a novel for the family. To save money, consider checking books out at the local library or purchase used books online. For struggling readers, consider an e-book or audiobook version so that children can follow along while listening to the book aloud. 
  • Ice skating, bowling, or an afternoon at the trampoline park can provide much-needed exercise when cabin fever starts to hit in the winter months. As opposed to chauffeuring each child from activity to activity, family team time allows for one trip, to one agreed-upon activity, all together as a family. Want to stay in? Try a competitive Top Chef-inspired cooking challenge, in which each member chooses a flavorful pancake topping, unique pizza toppings, or quesadilla fillings. An impartial blind taste tester is all you need to settle the sibling rivalry or family food feud! 
  • As opposed to hustling from game, to recital, to playdate on a busy weekend, consider volunteering as a family. Clean out the toy room and closets to donate to children in need. These gestures show children that the holidays are not only about receiving, but also giving. Decide as a family to demonstrate the spirit of giving by helping out at an animal shelter, soup kitchen, book drive, etc. After volunteering, discuss each family member’s favorite moment of the day—what was the best part of volunteering? What did you learn?   

This season, take a break from the constant flurry of extracurricular activity and give your family the gift of time together.

Constructive Feedback

Educators are trained to provide rigorous, engaging instruction, fair and accurate grades and assessments, and helpful criticism or feedback. As an English teacher, written feedback is a crucial aspect of the editing, revising and grading process. For students, the best way to ensure that our feedback is not going straight into the garbage is to make it as helpful as possible. While everyone has his or her own style of providing written feedback, below are a few solid Do’s and Don’ts when it comes to teacher feedback.

  • Try to balance the salty with the sweet—especially with younger or struggling writers. The writing process is complex, intimidating, and laborious for many young learners. When students are just starting out, a little encouragement can go a long way. This is not to suggest that feedback must only contain vapid or disingenuous fluff—not at all. The critical aspect of teacher feedback is what the students truly need. However, if we want them to invest in the time of reading, reflecting, and revising with the feedback we provide, we must be sure to draw them in as opposed to turning them off with only negative feedback. I not-so-fondly remember my own experiences where, even as an elementary student, my writing was more or less ripped to shreds by only harsh criticism. Yes, critical feedback is important, but we must also be sure to shed light on what the writer did correctly, as to provide a glimmer of enthusiasm, optimism, or positive reinforcement.

  • Focus your feedback on a few major takeaways from earlier instruction. For instance, if a main objective of the unit is that students will be able to support a claim with textual evidence and interpretive reasoning, then focus your feedback and critique around how successfully they attempted that objective. If introductions and conclusions were the focus, be sure to provide most of the feedback in that area of the paper. This not only makes your life easier by helping to focus the written feedback, but it also allows for students to hone in on a few significant writing skills at a time. The feedback will seem less tedious on your end, and less harsh from a student’s perspective.

  • Keep comments clear, but concise, by using highlighter functions or editing symbols in Google Classroom. One benefit to the abundance of technology that we educators have at our disposal is the fact that written (or typed) feedback can save teachers time, while providing students with comments and suggestions in real time. With the various digital platforms for students to submit writing assignments, students no longer have to wait for the return of tangible essays with handwritten feedback. Now students can simply login from home or school to view a teacher’s comments, critiques, and suggestions.

  • Use the editing or highlighting function in Google Classroom to note areas in a paper where students need spelling, punctuation, or grammatical revision. For students that need reminders, I may insert the first few missing commas. For others, however, I may simply highlight the areas in their paper where they are missing punctuation. This way, students will know where to include a mark, but must assess their own writing to identify exactly which punctuation mark fits properly in a given highlighted area.

  • Talk through the feedback to both put students at ease and answer follow-up questions that they may have. Like many things, sometimes our feedback can get lost in translation. If this is the case, consider setting aside a segment of class time where students can conference one-on-one with you about their specific feedback and suggestions. This allows students the opportunity to fully grasp the feedback to ensure that their plans to revise will in fact improve upon their first draft.

Making Math into Games: Activities in the Classroom and at Home

Take it from me, a self-proclaimed math loather: when math concepts just do not click, the fallout can be extremely frustrating for kids. No matter the age, a student in the classroom or a child at home can quickly become discouraged when the math just doesn’t add up. For these children, who struggle with the ins and outs of successive math courses, real-world concepts and engaging activities can make all the difference.

Trick-or-Treat Math

This is the perfect seasonal opportunity for kids to apply real-world concepts of money, numeric relationships and directions to engaging activities that secretly build multiplication, division, analytic and ratio skills. Before trick-or-treating, have kids rate their favorite Halloween candies from 1-10, 10 being their absolute favorite. Then, help kids set up a candy bargaining/trading activity, in which they base their trades off of a certain candy’s rating. For example, if Reese’s Pieces are ranked as a 10, but Twizzlers are a lowly 2, help your children identify how many Twizzlers it would take to equal the ranking of Reese’s Pieces. Help them throughout the trade by prompting them with mathematical questions like, “If cherry lollipops are favored twice as much as orange lollipops, how many orange would I have to forego for 3 of your cherry pops?” Or, “If you have 60 pieces of candy from trick-or-treating, and I allow you to eat 1/10 of your candy over the weekend, how many pieces can you eat on Saturday if you want to eat 4 pieces on Sunday?” (**DISCLAIMER for educators—if you plan to allow for Halloween activities in the classroom, be sure to double check with parents about any allergy/dietary restrictions.)

Scavenger Hunt

A scavenger hunt activity is always good for embedding discrete mathematical practices. Provide students with different word problems and accompany each problem with a “clue envelope.” Each time their group correctly works through a word problem, provide them with a clue to lead them closer to the treasure. This activity allows for plenty of options for differentiation, including high/low grouping, varying levels of word problems, options for graphics or manipulatives, etc. Depending on student needs and abilities, math problems could involve multi-step word problems, multiplication flashcard races, geometric matching, placing items in size order, rounding to nearest tenth/hundredth and matching equivalent fractions. Perhaps the treasure could be a homework-free pass, prize tokens or extra recess time.

Shaving Cream “Swat”

It may be messy, but shaving cream swat games using mathematical equations can bring a ton of energy to a typically dry math review. Depending on age and ability, groups can swat basic multiplication problems, the next shape in a pattern, addition/subtraction problems, etc. The possibilities are endless so long as the planning and frontloading are in place. Educators will create math challenges on index cards for groups to solve. While solving, the teacher will provide answer options written in shaving cream on paper plates—kind of like a multiple choice selection. Groups will race to “swat” or “splat” whichever answer they agree on using a fly swatter. The caveat, of course, is the clean-up. However, this group activity never fails to drum up enthusiasm when completing a math practice or review.

With a little planning and preparation, these games can reinforce math concepts and build skills in new ways that will get even the most hesitant learners to join in the fun!

Equity

Equity, as far as the Oxford English Dictionary is concerned, is defined as “the quality of being fair or impartial.” Simple enough, right? Yet, at home with children and teens, the concept will probably require further conversation to teach kids not only what equity means, but what it looks like.

One way to begin teaching children about what it means to be equitable is by teaching them what is not equitable. Contrary to what many children believe, equity and equality are not synonymous. By this, we mean that equity does not signify that everyone receives the same thing, whether that be treatment, assistance, gifts, awards, allowance, etc. Instead, equity means that everyone receives the same level of what they need. Again, this concept could be difficult for children to grasp, especially when fairness becomes a point of contention.

When parents need to put the focus on equity, not equality, they can begin by explaining the reason behind certain parental decisions. For example, Alex is 6 years old and Abe is 16 years old. Both boys perform chores around the house for an allowance. However, because the stark age difference significantly distinguishes each child’s ability to perform certain chores, tasks and allowances will not be equal—but they will be equitable. Let’s look at the details: Alex, the 6-year-old, feeds the fish, sorts his laundry, and helps put groceries away. For these age-appropriate tasks, Alex receives $5 a week as his allowance. This amount is enough for Alex to buy a book at the school book fair, which he desperately wants.

Now Abe, the 16-year-old, completes chores for the family, as well. Since Abe is older, he is trusted with the responsibility of walking the dog every evening, mowing the lawn, and helping clean up after dinner. For these tasks Abe receives $30 per week, which he puts towards gas money. While this example is hypothetical, a scenario like this makes sense for explaining equity. Abe and Alex are both contributing to household chores. However, the level of work, and therefore the level of pay, differs to suit each boy’s needs.

Another way to explain equity to children is to use an example that they have likely encountered in every parking lot—the handicapped parking spot. Much like the school accommodations for students with special needs, handicap parking is an accommodation to ensure equity for drivers with disabilities. Obviously, handicap parking spaces are not equal to all of the other spots—they are much closer, more convenient, and sometimes larger. However, equality among parking spaces would mean that the parking lot is inequitable for drivers with special needs. Remember, children need to realize that equity involves everyone getting what they need. An able-bodied person does not need to park closest to the entryway of a building, but a handicapped person does. The designated spaces ensure that they receive what they need, which in this case is an unobstructed parking space that is close in proximity to where they are going.

Key takeaways for children and teens is that fairness, equality, and equity are not synonymous terms. Equity revolves around each person’s individual needs and circumstances. Remind your children that we may not be aware of a person’s individual needs. Therefore, if it appears that someone else is getting “special treatment,” consider the obstacles, limitations, or other factors that may be at play. What appears to be unequal is often equity at work.

Homework Help for Families with Several School-Aged Children: Pt. II

As we have discussed, homework time can be innately chaotic for families, especially when several children need parental guidance at once. Since we really can only be in one place at one time, it helps to have a grab bag of possible solutions for the nights when everyone needs homework help.

In addition to the tips in the previous blog, there are more tricks of the trade to help monitor and manage homework for multiple children under one roof.

Use all available downtime to your advantage. Just as we suggested utilizing alternative times for homework completion, such as a morning routine for your early risers, other downtime can and should also be utilized. For instance, elementary schoolers can squeeze in a little more study time on the commute to school. Whether in the car or on the bus, encourage them to bring multiplication/division flashcards or spelling words along for the drive. Not only does this practice provide a pocket of extra time for review, but the process also helps to boost confidence before going in for a quiz or assessment.

Use class time wisely. In addition to the car ride to and from school, encourage your children to make good use of class time. Often times, teachers will provide anywhere from 5-15 minutes at the close of the lesson for students to begin that night’s assignment. This benefits the teacher, in that she is able to gauge who may have struggled with the day’s objective, or who may have missed important directions or notes during the lesson. This is also a benefit for students, as it allows them to get a jumpstart on or even complete their homework in class. Be sure to stress that your child should be sure to focus on instruction first—homework should be completed only if and when the teacher has allowed the class to do so.

Take advantage of after school help. Another option is to encourage your child to attend after school help sessions on a weeknight. Of course, with athletics and other extracurricular obligations, this could be difficult to manage. However, there are several benefits to the after school homework organizations run by the schools. First, many children are more patient or willing when one of their teachers is providing the homework help, as opposed to a parent. Sometimes, as much as we would not like to admit it, homework becomes a losing battle of tears at the kitchen table. The teacher acts as the mediator of the work, leaving parents free of the stressful battle.

Additionally, since children will be getting help from his/her teacher at the after school work sessions, they will essentially receive additional one-on-one instruction with the teacher who knows exactly how the assignment should be completed. Finally, after school homework programs often provide transportation home via an activity bus. Therefore, the work session can serve as an extended school day, but with no inconvenience to anyone’s schedule.  

Set a few ground rules for your children when they are completing homework assignments. No matter the time of day, ensure that children and teens take a break if and when frustrations flare. Homework is stressful as is, but when the tears or tempers start, it becomes a near impossibility. Instead of insisting on working through the frustration, suggest some cool off time. Anything from 5-10 minutes can help bring down a child’s stress level and allow everyone to get back into a productive mode. Additionally, be sure to enforce time parameters for help. For instance, tell your teen that there will be no late-night, last-minute shopping sprees if he decides that he needs materials for a science project the night before it is due. Similarly, make sure they know to ask for editing or proofreading help well before the paper is to be due. This alleviates any stress from having to cram in a last-minutes work session.

Getting Through Homework Time with Multiple Kids

A child’s homework routine can make all the difference at school. Even at the elementary level, a consistent homework plan helps young students to develop good study skills, as well as a strong foundation for time management, organization, and responsibility. But what happens when homework time becomes a jumbled rush for completion? This is the case for many families when siblings of varying ages need guidance to complete their homework. With the craziness that is the average school night, parents can only do so much when it comes to homework help. Logically, a parent can only help one child at a time—so what are some strategies to ease the stress of homework time for a family with multiple school-age children? Read on to find out!

Keep everyone organized by planning and maintaining a consistent homework routine. This should include specific homework times and areas of the house where homework will be completed. Avoid allowing teens to complete their homework in their bedrooms, as this is likely the least productive place for them. Keeping everyone in the same general vicinity of the house can allow parents to bounce from helping one child to the next. To keep the practice smooth and productive, insist that homework happen without distractions like television, social media, video games, etc.

Set aside time to help the youngest children first. Since their homework assignments will likely be easier and shorter, consider helping them prior to the older kids.This schedule also makes sense since younger children usually have an earlier bedtime, which will allow you to help the teens with their assignments once the younger ones are asleep.

Ask the older children to self-manage and take the initiative to start homework on their own. Depending on afterschool activities, families may be even more limited when it comes time to hit the books. This is a reality for many families, so encourage teens to get a jump start and jot down any questions or difficulties that they run into while working. This way they will have something to refer to when it is their turn for parental help.

Make a homework checklist for elementary-age students to highlight expectations and guide their efforts. For younger learners, parents will likely need to prompt the elementary children to get started, stay focused, and move between tasks or assignments. The checklist also helps children to begin to self-monitor while working.

Encourage older siblings to assist the younger children with their homework assignments. This sort of practice mimics the peer-teaching strategy, in which students build their own knowledge by teaching someone else the concept or skills. The younger sibling is not the only one to benefit from the tutoring assistance. By helping the elementary schooler, teenagers also develop communication skills, interdependence, and self-confidence when demonstrating concepts or tasks in a way that the elementary schooler can grasp.

Utilize alternate times for completing homework. Afternoons can be chaotic, but mornings can be equally stressful. However, if one of your children is an early riser, consider using some of the morning time for homework help, quiz review, or independent reading assignments to free up time later in the day. Just be sure that if you allocate part of the morning for homework that you carve out enough time to complete everything necessary.

Mindset Matters: Growth Mindset for the High Schooler

Growth mindset, simply put, is the belief that one’s intellect and abilities are not only unfixed, but malleable. That is, people are capable of employing different strategies to grow and improve their intelligence and skill sets. For high school students, this notion of agency and control over their abilities can be a transformative realization. Once teenagers realize that they are capable of improving themselves in any area that they choose, their options become limitless.

In order to teach concepts about growth mindset to high school students, they must first recognize what it is versus what it is not. Growth mindset is not a “cure-all” belief system that suddenly makes us capable of being perfect at anything that we attempt. Quite the opposite, actually. Growth mindset is about striving to improve, as opposed to focusing solely on perfection.

A way to encourage growth mindset in the high school classroom is to create opportunities for students to build intrinsic motivation by appealing to their curiosities. Want students to go above and beyond just for the sake of learning as much as they can? Provide student-centered options that provoke each teen’s natural inquisitiveness. For high schoolers, intrinsic motivation may just be beginning to bud. Nurture this by allowing them to research, read, and create based on content that they are interested in. For obvious reasons, students are much more enthusiastic about learning when they have had a hand in choosing the content. Additionally, when students are given choices in how they can demonstrate mastery, motivation, effort, and creativity spike. In this sense, growth mindset is all about encouraging explorative challenges.

Provide opportunities for students to get to know themselves as learners by challenges that make them think outside of the box. We all have natural talents; however, growth mindset is all about using the knowledge of our natural talents to unlock our potential in other areas of difficulty. The high school classroom should be the number one place for students to take risks—this means tackling a challenge that they know full-well will be difficult for them. Remind students that grit emerges when people are faced with setbacks and demanding obstacles. With this in mind, help students to focus, not so much on the perfected outcome of a task or project, but on the process—the trials and errors that occur as they work through a problem.

The idea here is that we learn more from our mistakes than we do from our successes. Help high schoolers to expect and accept failure as a certainty of life. Allowing failure to permanently fix our mindsets is an automatic means of sabotaging ourselves. Instead of shutting down and internalizing a perceived failure, high school students need help recognizing why they failed and how they will use this moment as a building block for their next attempt. When they stumble, remind them that anything worth doing will not come easily. An essential aspect of growth mindset is the fact that effort, motivation, and reflection are bridges to success in anything that we attempt.

Discussing Current Events with Students & Children: If, When, and How?

The unfortunate reality for children growing up right now is the prevalence of senseless tragedies. I myself, even as a grown adult, struggle time and time again to make sense of the catastrophic violence that pervades our day-to-day. For my students, I cannot fathom the panicked bewilderment and anxious uncertainties that events such as the Las Vegas attack bring to their frightened, yet curious, minds. During these formative years, how can we mediate the thin line between informing and frightening our students and children? If we decide that information is power, how do we present such heart-rending topics to young people in a way that equips them to do better for the world? Conversely, if we instead choose to shelter our innocent young people by preserving their naïveté, how can we expect to bring up the next generation to be culturally responsive and informed citizens?  

When considering conversations with young people involving tragic current events, such as this week’s Las Vegas mass shooting, adults must be extremely cautious. From the educator’s perspective, I am personally conflicted about my exact role as the adult in the classroom when it comes to conversations of a sensitive nature. Even as a middle school teacher, where my students assert themselves as “informed” or “aware” community members, I find it irresponsible of me to take on the role of informant for other people’s children.

Yes, our students are privy to infinite amounts of and avenues for any and all information, thanks in great part to the 1:1 ratio of school-aged children to smartphones. However, I firmly believe that the family (parents and guardians) know that child best. Therefore, as a teacher, my obligation begins and ends with parental consent. I can, and have, encouraged curious students to speak specifically with their parents about current events and the questions they have regarding those events. Additionally, as an English teacher, I have provided students with criteria for credible sources, smart searches, and strategies to detect bias and objectivity. But that is where my responsibility ends. This is not because I don’t want to hear their opinions or thoughts on the world’s happenings, but rather because it is not my place to open such an emotional or sensitive topic up to discussion.

Suggestions for parents regarding if, when, and how to broach these types of discussions with your children vary from family to family. Obviously, you know your children better than anyone else. Parents are also in control of the extent of info to which children are exposed. Parents are the gatekeepers of information, charged with filtering, limiting, and explaining the events that you deem appropriate for your children.

If families decide to discuss emotionally-charged current events, such as terrorism or mass acts of violence with their school-aged children, parents should consider multiple factors, including age, social and emotional maturity, and peer influence. Let your children do the talking first. Take the temperature of their background knowledge on the topic before you begin. Ask if they have heard or seen anything about the specific news story. It is likely that, if your child has a smartphone, she has some level of prior knowledge. Between social media and other communicative platforms, preteens and teenagers are presented with a deluge of news stories, photos, and videos.

Once you’ve gauged their level of prior knowledge, plan to direct the conversation with the goal to inform on a broad scope—do not necessarily delve into specific details, as details rarely serve to comfort or answer questions. A curious teen will inevitably stumble upon more details, but remind your teen to check the validity of the source before forming opinions or drawing conclusions. Furthermore, be prepared to some answer questions, while leaving other questions unanswered. Especially with unanswerable questions like “how?” it is more than okay to respond with “I don’t know” or “we may never know.” Find some security in the fact that a senseless act will never make sense—and share that important realization with your teen. Finally, encourage your teen to focus on the heroic deeds of bystanders, first responders, survivors, etc. Tragedies cannot be explained or reconciled, but the focus of the aftermath should always center on taking measures to lift up, help out, and affect change for the better. Always.                        

Mindset Matters: Positive Parenting

Growth mindset is a very hot topic in the educational realm today. A basic explanation for a not-so-basic, metacognitive concept is the fact that people can improve their achievement, motivation, and even their intellect by adopting a growth mindset and strategies that correspond to such a mindset.

In classrooms, growth mindset is used as a tool to deliberately activate and strengthen neural pathways by targeting areas of need using strategies that students already utilize in other areas. While that sounds like a mouthful, students as young as kindergarten are learning about metacognitive practices and the importance of grit and reflection.
Besides a strictly instructional focus, growth mindset can positively impact any endeavor, whether it be a cognitive or physical goal. That said, parents can implement basic growth mindset principles at home to boost self-confidence, motivation and effort, as well.

Parents can start with themselves
This means that, prior to encouraging your child to invest in adopting a growth mindset, parents must be ready and willing to look critically at their own mindset. As an educator, I initially felt that I fully understood growth mindset. However, it was not until I investigated my own mindset that I realized my tendency to lean more toward a fixed mindset—the polar opposite of what I was trying to teach my students.

As long as I can remember, I have considered myself to be an English-minded person—comfortable in my literary bubble where language as a means of expression was my primary academic strength. On the contrary, math is something that I have never grasped—ever. In my mind(set), I had absolutely no chance of improving my knowledge of mathematical concepts, so why even bother? Thus began my self-fulfilling prophecy instigated by my very fixed mindset.

The point here is that we adults cannot simply talk the talk; we must walk the walk and lead by example when it comes to growth mindset. Parents can model grit and determination by attempting something intentionally challenging. Golf not your strength? Consider a family outing in which you all take a golf lesson, or simply play a round of mini golf to infuse some fun into a personally difficult sport. Perhaps you are a notoriously disgraceful cook. Read a new cookbook or research a few fool-proof recipes to demonstrate to your children that planning, effort, and reflection can start the ball rolling on growth mindset and its ability to improve achievement.

Parents can model positive self-talk
Not only is this good for boosting self-esteem in adolescents, but optimistic affirmations help to strengthen one’s growth mindset. Much like my self-fulfilling prophecy involving poor math performance, negative internal dialogue lowers motivation and one’s expectations. When we put ourselves down, we are essentially self-sabotaging. Parents should be careful when discussing their own weaknesses as to not pass on these negative mindsets and behaviors. This is not to say that parents should claim that they are amazing at everything—acknowledging areas of need is a huge part of developing a growth mindset. However, we should be teaching children that our weaknesses are not destined or written in stone—we can and should always be working towards improvement and personal growth.

Parents can celebrate failures
To clarify, parents should not praise failure that results from laziness or lack of effort. Instead, explain that a job well done will sometimes still result in disappointment, but this does not mean that strides weren’t made toward success. When we try and don’t succeed, we learn a little bit more about the task or goal and how we might readjust and attempt again after some reflection and strategizing. The key here is for parents to stress that to try and fail is not shameful—it’s the lack of the attempt at all that cripples our growth.

Cyber Safety for Today’s Teens

It goes without saying that technology has fully inserted itself into most aspects of our day-to-day lives—and children and teens are no exception. Children are learning to swipe smartphones before they learn to turn the pages of a book, and many of them are swiping on their own devices. For parents, the endless exploration of technology raises many concerns for children and teens. Parents need not only be aware of what their children are getting from the constant connectivity, but also what they may be putting out into the digital universe. Yes, the horror stories surrounding teens and technology are vast and worrisome, but these hard-learned lessons can provide other families with safe cyber practices that will make all the difference for security and peace of mind.

Limit screen time, especially for youngsters. We may have grown to rely on our devices in the adult world. I, myself, use my phone for everything from navigation, to paying bills, to making grocery lists—the list (no pun intended) goes on and on. However, for children, it is essential that their screen time be limited and purposeful. Use screen time as an occasional reward, but make sure that everyone is clear about how long they can use the device and for what purposes.

If you feel that your child must have a phone for staying in touch, consider phones or plans that provide programmed options for usage. For instance, there are ways to program children’s phones so that they are only able to call or text a set list of phone numbers. You can also set restrictions on how data is used or what websites or apps your children can access. The key here is to keep your children’s circle small when introducing them to their first phone—the stricter the parameters, the more peace of mind parents will have about children using technology.

Be aware of your child or teen’s social media presence. Keep a very watchful eye on your child’s use of social media and limit access to devices when concerns arise. You should insist on access to or control over your teen’s social media accounts whenever necessary. If you suspect that your child is cyberbullying or being cyberbullied, take the phone. Keeps records of any evidence that your child is being bullied, including text messages, screen shots, profile posts or photos, etc. Schools today are cracking down on bullying; however, parents must present documented, repeated instances of harassment or bullying before school officials will intervene.

Along the same lines as cyberbullying concerns, parents should monitor social media accounts to ensure that children are protecting themselves and being digitally responsible. Teens today are so concerned with obtaining “likes” and gaining “followers” that they lose sight of how vulnerable they may be making themselves online. Explain to them that, even with privacy settings, nothing is 100% private when it comes to posts, comments, photos, etc. Make sure that teens are not using personal information, like a full name, specific address, current location, or school. Social media sites make it extremely easy to tag one’s location, but too often teens fail to consider who might be keeping tabs on their location. Gently, but firmly, remind your children that not everyone on social media is who they claim to be.

Talk about the permanency of our digital footprints. This means that, once posted online, ownership no longer belongs to you. Even deleted material is not ever fully erased if even one person has captured, saved, or screenshotted the post. Not only can deleted posts resurface, people can edit or manipulate the photo or post in any way they choose. Teach children and teens to think carefully before making a post.