How parents can tackle technology

Back to school means back to class websites, online grade books, devices required or issued by school and assignments to be completed on them. Managing kids and their technology can sometimes seem overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be.

Here are some tips for the coming school year.

Teach kids be mindful about their tech usage.

“Technology is not intrinsically bad; it’s how we use it that matters,” says Nicole Dreiske, executive director of the International Children’s Media Center and author of The Upside of Digital Devices: How to Make Your Child More Screen Smart, Literate and Emotionally Intelligent.

Back to school is a great time to talk about ways technology can be both fun and beneficial in and out of the classroom, as well as the potential downsides. Encourage kids to pay attention to how using tech for different purposes makes them feel, both emotionally and physically. For example, do they feel differently when playing an academic-related game for school as opposed to Fortnite.

Dreiske notes that when parents help kids process their feelings and thoughts about technology, children start to build self-awareness.

“If you want kids to turn devices off, they have to know how they are being affected. Give them the tools to know how they are being impacted and you will get results,” she says.

Ask kids—and yourself—to think about the purpose.

Technology can be entertainment, educational and connect people.

Conover encourages parents to understand the “why” behind the use of technology in their children’s classroom.

“If you’re not sure why they are using something, have a face-to-face chat with the teacher about it.” She adds that it helps to “keep an open mind and really listen to the research and reasoning behind the teacher’s choice.”

Have a family tech agreement.

“A family technology agreement is a staple of the 21st century,” stresses Dreiske, who notes that technology is simply pervasive. She says a broad agreement that imparts your values takes the pressure off parents because “you cannot be holding the line on six kinds of media experiences every day. It’s impossible and exhausting to parents.”

And no, your child isn’t too young for an agreement. “If you’re handing a child a screen, there has to be an agreement first,” Dreiske says.

As kids get older that agreement can evolve to cover how kids relate to their peers in any setting, be it at school or via an online game.

Carrie Conover, founder of the podcast “educators 2 educators” and mom of two in Wheaton, says technology can be a great way to encourage collaboration and creativity, and those are more likely to flourish via technology when kids are clear on the behavior expectations of parents and teachers.

Talk with kids about technology just like you would read them a story.

Dreiske urges parents to have an ongoing technology conversation with their kids. That conversation should be short, sweet and frequent. She recommends parents use the same voice they use to read bedtime stories—full of enthusiasm, interest and curiosity. No judgment.

“Just do it 10 minutes three times a week,” she suggests. The key is to make your child your sole focus for that time. “Kids love having their parent’s full attention and being truly heard,” Dreiske says.

An easy way to start is by picking one game or app your child loves and saying, “It seems like you are enjoying this, let’s talk about it.”

This article originally appeared in the August issue of Chicago Parent. Read the rest of the issue

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