I originally wrote this piece for Covenant Eyes and am reposting and updated version below with permission. Please visit their website for amazing content and software that help men and women find freedom from their compulsive use of porn.
Tech and School – Woven Together!
For anyone with school-aged children, it’s back to school time! Many school buildings have spent the summer cleaning and upgrading, and in some cases, incorporating new technologies into their classrooms.
Because of COVID, now more than ever, tech and school are woven closely together.
As a father of four children spanning elementary through high school, I keenly understand the busyness that accompanies the school routine. Sports. Homework. Music lessons. Karate. Dinner. Wash. Rinse. Repeat!
For some families, this means a new building and new teachers. It might also mean additional ways for kids to access technology.
I spent the greater part of my elementary school years at a Catholic school which had nuns as some of its teachers. One of those teachers was a kind lady named Sister Catherine. She was in charge of what was called “The Learning Lab,” which was a room with round tables, chairs, and cassette playing devices with headphones. We went to The Learning Lab to learn about phonics and grammar.
One morning, one of the kids smuggled a rogue cassette into The Learning Lab, and instead of listening to something about verbs, we listened to a Scooby Doo mystery. We felt like quite the rebels! Sister Catherine had a sixth sense, and I swear she had eyes on the back of her head (or so it seemed). She quickly sniffed out the shenanigans and confiscated the tape. The perpetrator is still serving out the final years of a 40-year sentence (ha).
I share this story because the extent of mischief that could be had in The Learning Lab was limited. Compare this to the access kids have through a school-issued Chromebook today. It’s imperative that school IT staff are keenly aware of online risks and put measures in place to guard children.
As kids head back to school, we’ve created a short list of questions that every parent should ask their school’s administration. The answers to these questions can give parents the information they need to understand the digital risks their kids are exposed to at school.
1. What device(s) will my child be using at school? In what environments will my child have access to school-owned devices?
Each internet-connected device has a different level of risk due to its features, access and controls. For example, a Chromebook has a different suite of controls than an Acer Notebook. Once parents understand the types of devices that exist in the school environment, they can do a bit of their own research, especially if kids will be bringing devices home. Regarding environments, remember that where kids use Internet-ready devices can indicate the types of risks that exist. The same rules that might exist in your home about using devices in public places and with supervision should exist at school.
2. What rules exist for using non-school electronic devices in the classroom?
In an effort to save money, some schools allow students to bring their own family devices into school. This is understandable since students are likely very comfortable with their own devices. But, obvious risks exist when non-school controlled devices are prevalent on the bus and in the classroom. Each school with a program like this should have a detailed policy for how these devices are used and educational information for parents who want to know about filtering and monitoring programs.
On a somewhat related topic, a few very progressive schools have implemented “away for the day” programs in order to better control non-school devices. We applaud these efforts and truly wish that all schools required all non-school devices to be out of sight. Not only for obvious reasons (e.g., porn, social media) but to keep distraction low. Screentime is like second-hand smoke to kids around kids who have devices out. You can read more about Forest Hills Public Schools and what they’ve done to eliminate distraction, improve learning, and decrease discipline issues.
3. What network-level filtering and controls exist to protect my child while using school-owned devices?
The combination of blocking out the junk with a filter and monitoring where the kids visit online is typically an effective system for keeping kids safe. EVERY school should have robust network-level controls in place. Public schools that receive certain federal funds are required to maintain certain controls over online content in order to qualify for funding (enforced by: CIPA, the Children’s Internet Protection Act). If the school utilizes monitoring controls to log where kids go, then it’s important to also understand what the school does with that information (see #5 below).
4. Do teachers attend any professional development to keep them current on the digital culture of kids?
As we all know, the way kids use apps and technology constantly changes. In order to appropriately monitor kids, teachers should have at least a minimal knowledge of the digital culture of kids. Individuals around the country perform this type of professional development for teachers, and school leadership should be providing it.
PYE does professional develop sessions for schools. Please let us know if we can help! Michele can share more.
5. What is the school’s process to identify, elevate, and remediate digital incidents, including cyberbullying, sexting, or pornography, on the school’s network?
Just recently, I worked with a family whose son had been deliberately searching for explicit content on a school iPad during the school day. This took place for months before the child was caught by a teacher and the parents were told. At that point, quite a bit of damage had already been done to this young man. Tragically, the school is using a world-class network monitoring system that did its job to identify and flag these incidents. But the school failed because it did not have a process in place to elevate and remediate the incidents.
Parents! You have a right to know the answers to these questions. We’ve placed way too much responsibility on our children when it comes to bearing digital risk. It’s imperative that we have systems and processes in place the protect them in all digital spaces.
We’ve written quite a bit about what tech and school should look like. You can read those pieces below:
Chris McKenna, Founder: A man with never ending energy when it comes to fighting for the safety and protection of children. Chris practices his internet safety tips on his four amazing children and is regularly featured on news, radio, and podcasts for his research. His 2019 US Senate Judiciary Committee testimony was the catalyst for draft legislation and on-going discussion that could radically change online child protection laws and earned PYE the NCOSE Dignity Defense Alert Award in 2020. The PYE team has performed over 1,300 presentations at schools, churches, and nonprofits and was featured in the Childhood 2.0 movie. When not leading PYE, Chris is the Digital Marketing Manager for Covenant Eyes. Other loves include running, spreadsheets, nature, and candy.