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For the past few years, Visitation produced a blog that frequently featured the school’s faculty and staff. For the 2017-2018 school year, the Visitation blog will be authored by Visitation’s faculty and staff, who will share their ideas, advice, memories and musings with our broader community. We hope you enjoy this new blog, which has been dubbed “The View from Vis."

As always, we welcome your comments and feedback.

Blog: Screen time

Tracey Joyce has worked in a variety of roles since coming to Visitation 12 years ago, including serving as Coordinator of Educational Technology for the past two years. As part of the tech team, she works with both students and teachers on integrating technology into the curriculum across divisions. In this month's blog post, Tracey offers practical tips and useful links to help parents model good screen time habits and become better acquainted with their children's use of devices.

Screen time: Not for School, but for Life

Tracey Joyce

The most common question the Tech Department gets from parents is this: "How can I keep my child safe -- and doing what he or she is supposed to be doing -- online?"

With more and more of our students' learning taking place online, there are, of course, more opportunities for students to be doing what they're not supposed to be doing. The key skill parents and educators want our students to have is self-regulation, and teaching them how and when to use the Internet properly is probably one of the most important things we can do.

So how can we empower students to develop a healthy relationship with electronic devices, rather than solely enforcing rules and restrictions? How can we make sure students are safe and smart online? As an educator, parent and tech person, I have a few suggestions.

Talk with children
Ask your children what they are doing online and talk with them about how they are using their devices. Students complain that parents often make assumptions without talking to their children about what they are doing. Yet teachers here, for instance, often ask students to collaborate with others online. Working with a partner or group doesn't have to happen in the same room anymore. Be open to the notion that children may be working with classmates rather than gaming or wasting time online.

At a recent screening of the film Screenagers at Visitation, students overwhelmingly commented on how much their parents used their devices, even though parents were simultaneously cracking down on their children for using their devices too much. Take a week or so to monitor your own device use (there are many apps that can help you with this). When and why do you use your device? Are there times you could model putting your device away and getting more face-to-face connections?

Set rules and boundaries together
Bringing our children into the decision and rule-making process often leads to their buy-in. Once you start talking about rules as a family, you might find that everyone can agree on a no-device dinner rule. Or, as was suggested by some Middle School students recently, host a no-device party where all electronics stay away from guests or near the adults at the party. Your child might even welcome having the pressure taken off him or her if that rule is a norm when friends visit.

Go online with your children and get to know their world
If you demonstrate interest in your child's online world, he or she will likely share more of that world with you. Ask to follow your kids on Instagram, SnapChat or their social media of choice. Try not to comment too much, and recognize the difference between typical kid behavior and behaviors that might benefit from adult intervention (e.g., cyber-bullying).

Maintain a healthy "diet"
Remembering that our greater goal is to develop a healthy self-regulation in our children, we parents can achieve this goal by encouraging a balanced "play" diet that includes screen time. Just as we give our children a sensible food diet, we are encouraged by experts to use this same idea with play. A well-rounded diet of play includes outside activity, physical activity, games (both alone and with friends and family) and screen time. Too much of any one thing isn't good.

Read through the Visitation Acceptable Use Policy together
The Visitation handbook's Acceptable Use Policy is a valuable resource for parents. This policy is a great way to talk about how Salesian Spirituality and your child's digital life and footprint coexist. You can find this document here.

Unplug together
I recently read an excellent blog supporting the idea of connections: Tether Yourself: The Enlightening Talk Parents Aren't Having Can Keep Teens from a Damaging Drift by Rachel Macy Stafford (she also wrote Hands Free Mama). In the post, Stafford writes about how important it is to connect deeply with our families, our pets, our own experiences in the here and now, not the digital world others present. One of my favorite lines is this: "Tether yourself to real life. Tether yourself to real people. Tether yourself to real love."

Keep an eye on what your child is doing online
As parents, we need to recognize that there is a balance between monitoring our children's online behaviors and restricting what might be necessary use for social interactions and good learning experiences. Use monitoring as a way to spark conversation with children about where they are going and why. My suggestion is this: monitor, don't block. Below are some tips on how to set parental controls in common devices and some tools on how to keep an eye on what your child is doing online.

  • Apple recently launched a new portion of its website dedicated to Families. This site is making it easier for parents to get a handle on what their child is able to do with his or her Apple device, how to monitor their children's devices and how to keep kids safe online.
  • Google has a few options available to help as well. You can lock your computer to "SafeSearch" mode in Google Chrome, which will filter explicit search results on Google. Google also has a "Safety Center" that highlights the different apps and configurations parents can use in Chrome and on Android devices.
  • Disney Circle is a device you connect to your home Internet router. It allows parents to filter content, limit online time, and turn devices off at desired times (e.g., dinnertime and bedtime). There is also a mobile device version of this software.
  • Net Nanny is a very robust app parents can install on a child's device (Mac, PC, Android or IOS). It has numerous parent controls, including Internet filtering, website blocking, time controls, and special controls for blocking pornography and profanity.

These are just a few of the suggestions parents can use to help their children be safe and smart online.

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