Finding Balance - iLearn Parent Workshop - Digital Literacy Dover

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Finding Balance - iLearn Parent Workshop

Since the beginning of Term 2, the Digital Literacy Coaches at our Dover Campus have been delivering a series of workshops to support the iLearn Initiative. The focus on the second workshop was about helping students to find balance in a digital world and to help parents understand some of the strategies that their child could use to remain focused, on task and efficient with their time.

The following are some broad practical steps that will help you begin a discussion with your child. These hints have been adapted from the excellent resources available from the Common Sense Media group.

  1. Establish good habits early
  2. Develop a place at home where kids can be online
  3. Stress homework before computer work
  4. Limit multitasking and discuss coping strategies
  5. If you suspect a dependency, have a heart-to-heart
  6. Don’t take away the computer
  7. Don’t hesitate to ask for help

Establish good habits early:
Kids need guidelines and rules about what is an appropriate amount of time to spend on the computer. A good rule of thumb for our Junior School students is no more than an hour a day during the week. Allotting computer time in 15 or 30 minute increments gives you a chance to check in and suggest that it’s time for a break.

For older students, establish appropriate guidelines that everyone in your family acknowledges. For Middle School students perhaps 1-2 hours after school is a suitable guideline. For most students some of this time will be used to complete homework using their laptop.

Late at night, always insist that older students place laptops, phones and other devices outside of the bedroom to be charged at night. Having a period of disconnect or down time between finishing homework and going to bed might be a good idea for our Middle School and High School students. Be prepared to turn off the wireless internet router late at night, as a way to force your children to disconnect.

Develop a place at home where kids can be online.

Within your house, find a place perhaps in the dining room or lounge where your children can work and where you can walk by and casually observe their online habits. As they get older give them more privacy and independence and allow them to work in their rooms, but feel able to rein this freedom back, if you feel concerned.

Stress homework before computer work.
Help your child make a distinction between homework time which uses the laptop, and time they spend socialising online. Please look at our school homework expectations in the Planner and use these as a guideline. The issues of multitasking can make a simple homework task stretch far beyond the teacher’s time expectations.

Make sure your kids know that homework must be finished before they look at YouTube videos or instant message the latest gossip to their peers. Think about where they are doing their homework and ask them to record times when they are completing their homework and times when they are playing games, or socialising online.

Limit multitasking and discuss coping strategies
Multitasking is a common habit among all of our students and we strongly believe in teaching them coping strategies so they can self-manage the plethora of online distractions.

Experts agree that multitasking prolongs the time it takes children to do individual tasks, such as homework.  Research does show that multitasking affects our children's ability to filter and retain information, and also their ability to refocus back to the original homework task. A constant toggling back and forth and between devices, such as music players or cellphones, has a real impact on their ability to process and retain information.

The Common Sense Media group has produced excellent guidance for parents about Multitasking which is available here.

Practical Steps for multi taskers
  • Encourage your child to open only one or two applications at a time, and close other windows.
  • Ask them to use the full screen options in some applications to block out distractions.
  • Show them how to sign out of programs such as Skype and help them identify open applications in the dock.
  • Removing any distracting applications from the dock. Items included on the dock could just be focused on school applications. (Pages, Keynote, Safari, iCal, Preview, plus several others) see below for an example.
  • Develop a simple strategy with your child to turn off the wireless when they are trying to focus on a piece of writing. This is available on the top menu bar.
  • As a last resort help your children install a piece of software called Self Control. This has been really popular with our older students. Students use it to set time limits and block a list of websites that they know are distracting. Once the time period is set, websites and applications are blocked until the limit expires.
  • With younger students, explore the use of Parental Controls on a Mac to block them from installing specific applications and games. Parental controls can be set up with help from the school Apple Help Desk located in the Secondary School Main Library. 

If you suspect a dependency, have a heart-to-heart. 
What happens when your children are away from the computer? Are they argumentative, depressed? Is there a marked change when they are online? Have you noticed changing attitudes to school work, or their willingness to meet up with friends during weekends?

Have a real discussion with your kids about your concerns. This, plus some serious guidelines, may normalise the behavior. If the problem continues, or you think the computer time is masking depression or anxiety, talk to someone else at school, such as the Tutor Group teacher, or respective Head of Grade. They may have the same concerns.

Don’t take away the computer. 
This may seem like the best solution, but it can be very damaging to “addicted” kids, who may feel that being online is the only thing that brings them any enjoyment. Instead, try low level and consistent involvement with kids as they use technology. Sit around the dinner table with them, encourage them to work in a central, visible place. Whilst they are doing work, ask small questions to begin a dialogue. e.g. What does that program do?

Removing the computer can make them depressed. It can also affect the level of your child’s trust in you and does not help them in developing ways to cope and with strategies that will shift their behavior in the long term.

We try place an emphasis on trust, freedom and independence and helping students learn strategies to cope. Independence, freedom and privacy need to be earned and can be rolled back as a strategy by parents to help students.

Don’t hesitate to ask for help. 
Dependencies are hard to break if they don't have a set of coping skills. If you need some help please be in touch with Tutor Teachers, Heads of Grade or the school Counselling Department.  Guidance is also available on the Common Sense Media site.