I just walked past the den where my 13-year-old daughter was doing her homework, and saw her with her phone in her hands and her iPad open. Ha…caught her goofing off on social media…or so I thought. When I asked her why she had her phone out, she replied that she was using the calculator on it. Then when I asked why she needed her iPad, she replied that her worksheet was on the iPad.
I have had so many of these frustrating and confusing moments over the last few years, as technology has become more and more central to her education and her life. I have so many questions and concerns, and no one ever seems to have the definitive answers. I want my daughter to succeed in school, and I want her to have a social life, but seeing her on a screen worries me. I keep trying to figure out the best way to do it.
I have read about the Waldorf School in San Francisco. Although it is located in Silicon Valley, it does not allow any technology in grades 1-8. The really interesting part is that around 75% of the parents at the school are tech executives. I read that, and I think that I’ve screwed up, and that I shouldn’t have given her an iPhone or allowed her to use an iPad yet. But other schools embrace their technology use and tout the educational advantages of the student-centered learning that technology allows.
What is the right answer?
My daughter goes to, and I work at, a school that uses some technology. I love our school, and wouldn’t trade her education and experiences there for anything else, but still, I wonder about screens and kids’ developing brains, and what’s best for my family.
Be aware of what’s on the screen.
One way I cope at my house is to try to keep homework screen time from morphing into recreational screen time. In theory, school work gets priority for the screen time. It sounds good, but it is hard to enforce.
I’ve struggled to regulate screen time when my daughter is doing homework on it. One solution that has worked for me at home, and also with kids that I’ve tutored, is to have them work in a public space, like the kitchen table. Many eyes do help kids to be more honest with what they are actually doing on their screens.
I also have set a timer for an agreed upon time. For example, if math homework should take 45 minutes, then we set the timer for 45 minutes. That helps my daughter to focus on the homework screen, and not be quite so easily distracted by the social media screens that are just a click away.
I originally tried a one screen at a time rule, but I found that it wasn’t practical. For example, when my daughter had a virtual lab on one screen plus a digital worksheet about that lab for homework, it was much easier to have two screens open on two different devices as opposed to flipping back and forth between screens on a single device.
Know what is possible on a device.
One night, my daughter had taken her iPad into our study to complete her homework. I thought I had done the “good mom” thing by requiring that she leave her phone on the kitchen counter. For the next 30 minutes, her text message alerts were non-stop, and I congratulated myself on having her leave her phone in the kitchen. I should have known better – when I popped in to check on her progress, I found her texting away from her iPad. She had been part of that text conversation the entire time that she was writing her English essay. Now, texting is not enabled on her iPad.
I was disappointed that she had broken my rule and texted during homework, and she did lose phone privileges for a time, but in truth, I understood. The author, Adam Alter, in the book, Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked,(amazon affiliate link) discusses how technology is designed to be irresistible to adults and kids alike. I can’t resist a group text that’s exploding, either – how can I honestly expect my 13-year-old to resist?
The printer is my friend.
My best coping technique is still to have her do as much with paper and pencil as humanly possible. I wrote last year that just because an assignment starts on a screen it doesn’t have to stay on the screen, and I still believe that. In his book, The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload, (amazon affiliate link) Daniel J Levitin describes how when we study something, our memory uses visual reminders such as where a piece of information was located in your notes or what color you used when you wrote in the margin of a text. Digital textbooks and digital worksheets take those visual memory triggers away. When text is read on a screen, it all looks the same. When a worksheet is completed on a screen, there is no visual trigger when a student tries to recall the information – the “oh yeah, I remember that, it was on the bottom left of the worksheet” is simply gone.
Read real books.
I think that kids spend enough time on screens as it is, and so I like to keep my daughter’s pleasure reading from a real book. It’s Book Fair at our school this week, and when she walked through the library where all the new books are displayed, she a took a deep breath and said, “I love the smell of new books.”
I might be screwing up a lot of things with technology – or not, but she still loves the smell of new books. I’ll take that as a victory any day.
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Maureen Paschal is a freelance writer, a teacher-librarian, and a mom of four almost grown kids. She blogs at Raising The Capable Student where her goal is helping parents to keep family life a priority and school success in perspective. Her work has been featured in On Parenting from the Washington Post, Grown and Flown, Perfection Pending, and Today Parents.