So what is the reality of “1 student: 1 computer” technology initiatives? Are they the end of civilization or the dawn of a new era of creativity and entrepreneurship? I will only answer by saying that I do not know of any school that made the move to a 1:1 technology initiative that has returned to the more traditional computer lab model. The reality is that the backpack I described in the first paragraph is real. A tablet allows students access to more information than they could possibly integrate into a paper; it gives them the ability to produce clean, neat, written work complete with pictures, charts, and tables; and offers up on-line tutorials to help them with everything from algebra (Khan Academy) to grammar (Turnitin.com). On numerous occasions, I have seen students recording a class for their friend that is sick at home or even FaceTiming the lesson in real time. Technology quickly becomes such a large part of student lives that they could not imagine being without it. Think how you feel when you leave home without your smart phone.
So 1:1 technology initiatives are here, and they are here to stay. What can a parent do to minimize the very real issues that arise when providing your child with technology? And notice I said minimize, not eliminate, as the younger generation sees technology as a birthright and will do anything to circumvent restrictions you may place on them. There are, however, a few very simple things you can do that should help prevent overuse or access to inappropriate sites.
My first suggestion is checking in all technology at bedtime. Having a family charging station in the master bedroom is a good start toward regulating late night use of technology. Often at the expense of sleep, students will be on their computers or phones at all hours of the night. If you do not believe me, check the time of your teen’s tweets, posts, and texts. I would be surprised if you do not find use between the hours of 11:00 p.m. and 4:00 a.m. on school nights. And remember that technology includes anything that allows a student to access the Internet, which includes smartphones, tablets, laptops, desktop computers, and many gaming systems. Of course this strategy becomes less effective as your personal bedtime gets earlier and your child begins legitimately doing homework at all hours of the night. In this case, you might look for signs in the morning that they have been up late texting, such as a cell phone lying in the bed.
Another simple solution is to engage the restrictions on your child’s smartphone or tablet. Each phone is different, but under general settings there should be a place that allows you to restrict Internet content and app purchases according to the age of the user. There is a code you can use to prevent your child from returning to the original, less restrictive settings. This is not foolproof but it makes a big difference more often than not.
Facebook has evidently been “ruined” by adults, but it does not hurt to check your child’s account. Your child may have gravitated to Twitter, Snapchat, or Instagram, so you will need to check these as well. Remember, unless your child is independently wealthy, you are paying for their access to technology. Retain your right to see what they are doing. Or better yet, don’t allow your child to maintain these accounts. If you try this second strategy, recognize that the drive to participate in social networking is so great that many students will create accounts secretly. You will have to be very attentive to observe secret use.
And finally, understand that the easy access and anonymity of social networking can lead to kids making really bad decisions. There is no foolproof method of preventing students from making mistakes in this realm but maintain an open and uncritical dialogue with them about their language, bullying, and appropriateness of content. When your child makes a mistake, you must treat it seriously and with consequences.
Recognize that Internet access and 1:1 technology initiatives are here to stay and that they are already a mainstay in American education. As such, you will no longer be able to isolate your child from technology as it is now an integral part of their school lives. Taking a few easy steps to protect your child from some of the negative side effects of access to technology may help set your mind at ease.
Christian J. Proctor, Ph.D.