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Back to School 2016: Tech tips for managing screen time at home

August marks the third year Rowan-Salisbury students have been given their own personal laptops and iPads. The devices are used to enhance classroom learning, and travel home with older students for use in completing homework.

Teachers are in charge of monitoring appropriate use of technology during the school day, but what about when students take their computers home? How much time is too much time, and how can parents differentiate between when their students are hard at work on a project and when they’re goofing off?

“When they go home it’s at the discretion of the parent,” Andrew Smith, director of digital innovation with Rowan-Salisbury Schools, said.

Smith gave a few tips for parents who may be unsure of how to handle a brand new computer or tablet computer being placed in their child’s hands.

Create tech-free times. Smith said an easy way to ensure that a device is being used appropriately is to create times where the tech is banned: at the dinner table, during family time or before bed. And don’t be afraid to be tough.

“If you feel like your child is using the device too much, there’s a really simple solution — you take away the device,” Smith said.

Designate a charging area. To make sure that children aren’t using the device late at night, or to goof off after homework, have a rule that devices must charge in the parent’s bedroom, in the kitchen, or in another location away from children’s bedrooms.

Model behavior. If there’s a tech free time, such as at dinner, be sure you’re not on your phone or distracted by technology.

“That just reinforces the idea to the student that it’s OK to have this,” Smith said.

Check up on your children. While it’s good to put faith in students, Smith said it never hurts to check in on them from time to time. A quick way to do this is to look at the internet history on school devices.

“If you check your child’s internet history and it’s blank, there’s probably a reason for that,” Smith said. It may be something students don’t want their parents to see.

“If no one’s ever checking that, the child may feel like they can get away with anything,” he said.

And if a child is always turning the screen away from a parent, or closing the lid, “there’s probably a reason for that.”

When students are at school, the district’s network filters out sites that students may use to goof off. When the devices are used at home, students are required to log into a built-in filter before they can access Wi-Fi. But filters don’t always catch everything.

“The filters are good, but they never take the place of a parent or an adult,” Smith said “ … A child’s never going to learn from a filter that a website’s inappropriate — it’s just going to block it.”

And there are plenty of other devices, such as smartphones, that children may have access to that wouldn’t have a filter. During the fall and spring of the 2016-17 school year, Rowan-Salisbury Schools will host parent luncheons to teach parents about literacy and technology.

“This year we’re really wanting to focus on helping to educate our parents,” Smith said.

Contact reporter Rebecca Rider at 704-797-4264.

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