When your kid’s school gives them a device

The school just handed my child a device. Now what?

students with devicesMany districts are “going one-to-one,” if they haven’t already. That means every student gets his or her “own” device.

The majority of schools are choosing Chromebooks, but some are issuing iPads, cheaper laptops, or even MacBooks.

A one-to-one (usually written 1:1) program offers a lot of flexibility within the school, as teachers and students can use tools, access resources, and begin creating within the flow of the school day or class period, without having to reserve a lab weeks ahead of time.

1:1 programs also improve the equity issue with some kids having mom and dad buy multiple devices for their kids, and others not able to afford the same luxury. When students are allowed to bring the devices home, too, there is a similar opportunity to complete homework and projects (providing there is wifi access.)

But this is especially where it gets sticky for parents. It’s one thing to choose not to buy your child a laptop or tablet. Perhaps that’s the path you’ve chosen to restrict online access.

What do you do, then, when the school puts one of these gadgets in your kid’s hand?

Here are three specific things you can do and one suggested mindset to keep.

Attend meetings

When schools roll out a 1:1 program, they might offer a back-to-school night for parents or an informational meeting regarding the new devices. If they aren’t doing this, contact an administrator or the technology coordinator and suggest one…politely. Offer to organize one, even.

Some schools will go so far as to require parent attendance at a beginning of the year meeting before your son or daughter can have a device issued to them. Usually, school officials will go over policy and expectations at these meetings, with some going so far as to provide some basic training for parents.

For any of these events, you should definitely take advantage of the opportunity to ask questions.

Ask Good Questions

While at an event or meeting with other parents, ask questions. If you are uncertain about something that was said, ask for clarification and examples. While you shouldn’t be confrontational, certainly ask if you feel something was left out or if you need to know the rationale behind a decision.

If it’s not a question that would benefit everyone, or if there is no public meeting opportunity, email or call one of the school officials. Find out who is the best source of information by starting with one of your child’s teachers.

Not sure what to ask? Here are a few basic starter questions:

  • What kind of filtering happens at school (for legal reasons, there is always some type of filtering) and what–if any–gets filtered when the device is out of school?
  • What are the expectations for bringing the device home, and is there an option to leave it at school?
  • How much homework should we expect to have to be done at home on their device?
  • Are there consequences for forgetting to bring the device to class or forgetting to charge it?
  • What types of activities are permitted on the device (games, loading apps, social networks, etc.), and what are the consequences for misusing the device?

Learn the Device

Whether the school provides any parent training or not, you should try to learn the basics of the device if it’s unfamiliar to you. You don’t need to learn every feature, but be comfortable enough with it to help your child and also monitor their online activity.

For example, learn how to use it online and offline (for when there is no wifi). A common myth about Chromebooks is that you can’t do anything with Google Docs when you don’t have an internet connection. Really? I’m writing the rough draft of this post on a park bench in a Google Doc. (I mention this because I’ve heard of students using this as an excuse with their parents as to why homework couldn’t be done.)

Learn how to check internet browsing history. (On a Chromebook, that would be through the Chrome browser. On an iPad, it might be through the Safari app.) The best way to figure this out is by doing a quick Google or YouTube search. Try check browser history + <name of device>.

Your child’s school may have a 1:1 program where the kids can’t bring the devices home. If you were looking to purchase a device for your child for home use, you may want to match the device they are using at school. Good news? Chromebooks are now below $200 if you shop around.

Be the Parent

It is critical that you, as a parent, understand this essential truth: When the school issued a device to your child, that did not usurp your authority as a parent.

Simply put: You. Are. Still. The. Parent.

This is one of the key issues that pushed me to start ParentingDigital in the first place. As more schools were going 1:1 (including the ones in which I’ve worked), I heard more parents lament about how impossible it was to manage technology now that the school just put a device in their child’s hands.

Excuse me, but…cop out.

Yes, it requires a different approach to technology, but nothing the school does should change your role or your authority as Mom or Dad.

There are always things that are at odds with our parenting style, values, or philosophy. The way the school teaches evolution, or doesn’t. The way the school teaches sex ed, or doesn’t. The way the school teaches climate change, or doesn’t.

None of those school decisions change the way you approach those issues, other than to perhaps strengthen and amplify what you stress at home. The use of technology, especially a device like a Chromebook or iPad, should give you the same thing: an opportunity to have meaningful conversations about the role technology should–and shouldn’t–play in our lives.

Engage with the school officials, be open-minded and learn all you can, ask for clarification and resources, and explore options for opting out of the program, if you feel the need to.

But don’t ever fall into the helpless trap of thinking that you have no control over the situation now that the district has passed out gadgets.

You are still their best teacher.

What have your experiences been with 1:1 programs, as a parent? Please share in the comments below.

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