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The rules of the digital road: What parents and teachers need to know about kids & smart phones

Dr. Jennifer RayBy Dr. Jennifer-Alexiou Ray, associate professor secondary education/program coordinator of technology & leadership programs 

As adults, mobile devices are something we use for work, communication and entertainment. Many people wouldn’t consider leaving the house without their smartphone because it is their calendar, GPS, social networking hub, weather forecaster, personal digital assistant and the list goes on.

However, all of these helpful tools can have a completely different meaning when put in the hands of children.

Parents often feel adrift guiding their children on the appropriate use of these powerful devices that fit snugly in a purse or pocket. For children, regardless of how responsible or “tech literate” they are, improper smartphone use can have many dire pitfalls.

Children and teens are looking for guidance on how to interact with the global world opened up by smart devices.

In schools, teachers are continuously educating themselves on what children experience when using smart devices and their accompanying apps.

Educators are finding powerful methods to harness smart device capabilities while also teaching children the “rules of the road” for digital citizenship. Teachers, administrators, parents and community stakeholders must also realize that unfettered access to mobile devices during the school day can hamper learning.

For teachers, lessons utilizing devices must be purposeful and contain classroom management strategies that promote learning rather than just student access.

For example, at the University of Montevallo, when we are educating pre-service and practicing teachers, uses of 21st century devices and applications are a standard part of our curriculum.

Teachers seek to understand the dynamic that occurs when students come into the classroom with a vast amount of personal technological knowledge that needs to be harnessed in ethical and responsible ways. What occurs is a shared learning between the teacher and students.

Similarly, these opportunities for learning and growth can happen at home. Parents should be technological leaders for their children by modeling appropriate behavior and balance while also talking about the about technology with their children.

Parents should also be aware of the apps children are downloading as well as the potential damage of adult content available without parental guidance.

Some of the most important things parents and teachers need to know about device and app uses by children are as follows:

  1. Children should NOT have access to social media applications like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Musical.ly, Kik, Tumblr, Snapchat, etc. before the age of 13. This is prohibited by law. Accounts should be reported and/or deleted if the primary user is under 13.
  2. For children 13 and older, parents should closely monitor their social media accounts. Teachers should be aware of conversations in their classrooms about social media usage.
  3. Parents and teachers can utilize sites like Common Sense Media (commonsensemedia.org) to help keep up with what apps children are using. This site gives detailed descriptions about the apps and suggested ages for use. For example, a recent article lists the most popular social media apps for teenagers.

Being aware of and teaching children the power of these tiny devices is one of the most important things parents and teachers can do to help children become digitally literate and productive global citizens.