Back-to-School Q...School seems to start earlier every year. One minute you're packing for a week at the beach, the next you're wondering whether your kid really needs a spiral-bound notebook for every single subject, including PE. This year, back to school will bring another big surprise: more technology -- both in and out of the classroom -- than ever before. Navigating this territory will be a fresh challenge to all involved. Teachers and administrators want to use tech to reach out and relate to students, without disrupting class or skimping on lessons. Parents want to make sure that kids maximize the benefits while minimizing the risks. And kids? They mostly just want to have fun -- and that often means hours spent online, texting friends, or playing games. Added to the mix is a 24/7 pipeline that can be both a boon (homework help, research, current events) and a bust (hours-long texting marathons, Facebook drama, age-inappropriate content). Managing kids' schedules to provide enough time for schoolwork and activities with a reasonable amount of screen time is a delicate balance. Here are some of the top concerns we've heard from parents trying to figure it all out. — Caroline Knorr, Common Sense Media The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.
Cell PhonesQuestion: What's the right age for my kid to bring a cell phone to school? Answer: Nearly 56 percent of kids aged 8-12 have cell phones, according to a July 2012 survey by the National Consumers League. If your kid is in that age range, expect to start feeling some pressure to buy one. Safety is the main reason parents get their kids cell phones -- and it makes sense. A cell phone allows them a bit of independence and gives you some peace of mind. Kids' technological savvy often outpaces their judgement, so stick to a basic model without bells and whistles. Their ability to follow the rules is a better guide than age. Make sure they're old enough to understand that the phone is a tool, not a toy. These basic guidelines should help:
Check their school's cell phone rules and make sure that your kids understand them and will follow them.
Choose a basic device (no Internet access, no games, no camera).
Set clear expectations for responsible use as well as consequences for noncooperation.
Make sure they keep it charged -- and that they always answer when it's Mom or Dad calling!
— Common Sense Media The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.
Phones at SchoolQuestion: What are the rules about using cell phones at school? Answer: Every school is different, but most allow students to bring phones as long as they turn them off during class. Check your school's rules -- and make sure your kids are mature enough to follow them. In general, kids should use them sparingly: when they need a ride, if there's an emergency, or if their plans change. And always -- always -- answer when Mom or Dad call. Students have been known to misuse their cell phones at school. Make sure they know not to use the phone for nefarious purposes, like cheating, harassing teachers and videotaping it, taking pictures of kids without permission, etc. Some violations have serious consequences -- and the evidence is all in the phone. — Common Sense Media The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.
Facebook FriendsQuestion: Should students and teachers be friends on Facebook? Answer: First check with your school. Some have strict rules about teachers and students being Facebook friends on a teacher's personal page. (And we've heard from many teachers who frown upon the practice.) But if the teacher creates a class-wide Facebook page or dedicated Facebook Group, then he or she is most likely using it as a teaching tool. Still, you have the right to investigate further to make sure it's all legit. Some educators are making use of social learning networks like Edmodo, Schoology, and Collaborize Classroom for their students to discuss issues, collaborate on projects, or just assign and receive homework. Any teacher who requires students to join a social network should send home clear guidelines for how they're using it. — Common Sense Media The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.
Back-to-School S...Question: Back-to-school shopping has gotten so ad-heavy. How do I avoid buying into the commercialism? Answer: According to the National Retail Federation, the back-to-school season is the second biggest "consumer spending event" of the year (behind the winter holidays). The group estimates that most families will spend $688.62 on kids in grades K-12. So, yeah, there's a lot of pressure to separate families from their money this time of year. You may be able to avoid the hard sell at brick-and-mortar stores by shopping online. But that won't solve the problem of your kids getting targeted with back-to-school buying messages through websites, online games, Facebook updates, and even YouTube. Plus, social shopping -- where kids spread the message about their favorite products to other kids online -- is gaining momentum with marketers. Help your kids learn to recognize -- and avoid clicking on -- these types of promotions. If they're interested in a product, challenge them to comparison shop and list the pros and cons of an item. Help them figure out what they really need -- as opposed to what they want (and may get tired of soon). Beyond that, nurture a healthy sense of skepticism -- what we call "ad savvy" -- so your kids learn to view media critically. — Common Sense Media The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.
iPods at SchoolQuestion: Should I let my child bring an iPod (or other music device) to school? Answer: Students with earbuds stuck in their ears are a common sight in the hallways, study halls, lunchrooms, and even libraries of many middle and high schools. Today's teachers are pretty tolerant of kids listening to music at times during the day when they don't need to be listening to a teacher. If you decide to let your kid bring an iPod to school, set some limits. Make sure your kid follows the school's rules and that music isn't interfering with his or her ability to concentrate (if grades start slipping, that's a red flag). Remind them to take the headphones off when they're talking to people -- especially teachers. Hiding behind a wall of sound may not be a great way to make friends, so make sure the music is for entertainment -- not a way to avoid people. And remember that expensive gadgets can wander off, so discuss a replacement plan for theft or loss. — Common Sense Media The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.
New DevicesQuestion: My daughter has an older model iPod Touch, but all of her friends seem to have newer, fancier ones. She doesn't need a new one, but she really wants one to keep up appearances. What should I do? Answer: High-end gadgets have become status symbols among kids. It's up to us parents to delay immediate gratification and help our kids resist peer pressure. Consider creating a timeline or identifying a single significant goal to achieve before your daughter can upgrade. You can also pass along your old device when you upgrade (it'll be new to her) or simply set up a strategy for her to save for what she wants. She may give you a hard time, but she'll appreciate the device a lot more if she works for it or has to wait for it! And if it's something that's not in the budget, you always have the right to say no. — Common Sense Media The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.
Electronic Readi...Question: Does reading on the iPad or Kindle count toward my kids' daily reading minutes, or would it just be considered screen time? Answer: As long as they're really reading, then it's legit. But stick to basic e-readers with paper-like screens that don't download apps. According to a 2012 study conducted by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center, print and basic e-books are better for "literacy-building experiences" than feature-rich, multimedia e-books. Bringing e-readers to school is tricky -- they can get lost, stolen, or broken. So it might be best to leave them at home or make sure your kid is very careful. — Common Sense Media The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.
Easing Into ItQuestion: My kids are going to get a rude awakening when summer's over. I plan to put an end to all the free time they've been spending on their phones and computers. Any advice on how to ease them in? Answer: Develop a game plan -- with your kids' input -- before school starts. Consistency is important. Otherwise, the lure of digital devices can be overwhelming. Different strategies work for different families: Some parents allot a certain amount of "unwind" time before homework; some prohibit TV and games until all work is done. Timers work for some kids; others are motivated by small rewards. If your kid is computer-inclined, look for software programs that turn time management into a game. And remember that kids pick up tech habits from their parents, so set limits on your own use: let calls go to voicemail, don't check email at night, and don't let digital distractions intrude on family time. — Common Sense Media The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.
Are You Ready?Question: My kids spent the summer of playing video games and watching TV. How do I make sure they're ready for school? Answer: The single greatest inoculation against summer slippage is regular reading. Most kids slide a little, but the ones who read a lot go back to school better prepared for all subjects. Frequent skill-building sessions throughout the summer help, too. So get thee to the library, and try these math and science programs and reading and writing boosters. Finally, avoid electronics before bedtime, as they can interfere with a good night's sleep. — Common Sense Media The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.
Emailing Teacher...Question: My kid's teacher encourages students to email him with questions. What's the etiquette for emailing a teacher? Answer: Sending an email to a teacher isn't like emailing a friend. Here are some important dos and don'ts. Do:
Use a proper salutation, correct grammar, and full sentences.
Clearly state the purpose of the email (didn't understand the homework, forgot the field trip form, etc.).
Save problems, complaints, and other issues for face-to-face discussion -- that avoids a lot of drama.
Attach long, elaborate email signatures with images, song quotes, etc.
Click "reply all" and send superfluous messages to everybody in the class or community.
— Common Sense Media The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.
School LaptopsQuestion: My child's school is giving every student a laptop for use at school and home. What do I need to know? Answer: Many schools are integrating technology into academics with programs like a one-to-one laptop arrangement, BYOD (bring your own device), One Laptop Per Child, and even iPads in the classroom. Typically, the school loads all of the software that students need onto the device to ensure standardization (which helps keep teachers and students on the same page and aids network administrators in troubleshooting problems). One-to-one laptop programs work best when there's close collaboration between teachers, administrators, and families. Families should understand how the device is to be used and the teacher's expectations for homework. Most schools have a training period for students to learn how to use the device. Most schools distribute an Acceptable Use Policy so families know what's OK to do on the device and what's not. Many also come with service arrangements or guidelines around maintenance. The most successful programs acknowledge that laptops are just one tool in the learning process. One-to-one laptop programs represent new territory, so stay engaged in the work your kid is doing on the machine, watch for signs of frustration, and give feedback to the teacher about what's working and what isn't. — Common Sense Media The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.