Digital Health and Wellness

Maintaining a Healthy Balance with Technology

Whether you work directly with students or you have children/grandchildren, technology is changing how we learn and communicate on a daily basis. Both family members and MA staff members play an important role in helping students learn to manage their own use of technology.  Digital Health and Wellness is an important discussion to revisit frequently with children from elementary school through high school.

In accordance with Minnehaha Academy’s Acceptable Use Policy, outside of school parents bear responsibility for the same guidance of internet use as they do with information sources such as television, telephones, radio, movies and other potentially offensive media. Therefore, parents are responsible for monitoring their student’s use of the school’s educational technologies, including school-issued email accounts and the internet if the student is accessing the school’s electronic technologies from home or through other remote location(s).

Monitor and Limit Entertainment Screen Time

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) encourages parents to focus on a screen’s content, not just the time spent on the screen; there is no screen time limit for educational content and use. For children ages 6 and older, they recommend that parents "place consistent limits on the time spent using media, and the types of media, and make sure media does not prevent adequate sleep, physical activity and other behaviors essential to health.  The AAP recommends that “parents and caregivers develop a family media plan that takes into account the health, education and entertainment needs of each child, as well as the whole family".

Apple's Screen Time tool makes it much easier to understand your use of technology. This feature enables the user (or parent) to set time limits and block apps, create downtimes for homework/sleep/dinner/etc., set up password protection if necessary, and more. It also totals time spent in apps, number of times the device is turned on and number of notifications received. (Note that Apple Screen Time can be used on school iPads, but remote monitoring of it will not work from your personal iPhone through Family Sharing like it does to monitor a child's iPhone from a parent's iPhone.) If you use an Android device, check out Google's Family Link.

Most home WiFi routers allow time limit configurations for devices on their network. This means a device can be limited in the amount of time it is able to use WiFi at home if so desired. Each router manufacturer will have specific instructions on how to set this up.

Experts suggest having children surf the internet in a central place at home, such as the kitchen or family room, rather than away from adult supervision or behind a closed door. Know what your child is doing with technology and how he or she is spending time. Technology can be a great tool and resource, but also has the potential to be a distractor. Help your child learn to focus on completing tasks or assignments first before spending time on games, shopping, and social networking. Teaching today’s children how to manage multiple sources of information and potential distractions is a critical life skill, one best learned before heading off to college or the workplace.

Set Expectations and Make an Agreement

Regularly share your expectations with your child about accessing only appropriate sites and content, as well as being a good person when online (even when parents aren't watching). Outside of school, it is likely that your child has already been confronted with multiple opportunities to access content that parents wouldn’t approve, such as pornography, hate sites, celebrity gossip, reality tv personal blogs and more, all of which may influence your child's beliefs, values and behavior. Understand that your child's use of many technologies (such as laptops, video game systems, and cell phones) likely gives your child the ability to connect to unfiltered public wireless networks (such as in a library or coffee shop, by picking up a neighbor’s wireless signal, or connecting to the Internet through a cell service). Therefore, it is important to maintain regular, open dialog about internet use and access. Discuss your expectation for appropriate use and behavior.

Media Agreements are a resource and checklist that parents can use to guide conversations with their kids about media use. They are designed to help parents establish guidelines and expectations around media use and behavior that are right for their family. Some families are comfortable using them as signed agreements. Others refer to them to use simply as a checklist to guide conversations. Either way, they are a great way to help parents and kids get on the same page about media and technology use. Take time to review this Family Media Agreement and discuss it with your child.

Keep Tech Out of the Bedroom Overnight

Parenting experts suggest parking all technology devices, from cell phones to iPads, in a common spot overnight to discourage late night and unmonitored use, which can disrupt sleep. Do not allow your child to sleep in a room with an iPad, laptop or cell phone. Remember to model appropriate use and balance of technology in your own life, too!

Filters

All Minnehaha Academy iPads have built-in filtering software blocking access to inappropriate sites regardless of whether the device is at school or off campus. This built-in filter overrides any filtering you may have at home. Many home routers do allow for time limits to be set for network traffic, so parents may choose to do this. Parents can set up additional site blocking, such as blocking YouTube if desired (more info in YouTube section below).

Children often have complete, unrestricted access to inappropriate sites on other personal devices such as home computers and cell phones. Experts strongly suggest installing software to filter and block inappropriate content on your wireless home network. Filters can be set to block Internet access completely or block certain sites like pornography, social media, and gaming. Further, filters allow a parent to completely control when access is open/closed to such sites. These same tools allow parents to control any wireless device, whether it is a laptop, a smartphone with a web browser or other personal device. Without any filtering software at home, a user can get to any site on any device, including a desktop computer.

Some possible filters to consider that other Minnehaha parents use include OpenDNS (free option), Circle, Router Limits, or if you have a newer computer with Microsoft Windows or Mac iOS, the software may be part of the operating system- it’s called Parental Controls and there may be no need to buy anything else. You can also turn on the free tools within Google and YouTube to activate stricter filters on web, image, and video searches. TV cable companies offer filtering services as well-- to find out, search Google for your provider along with the words "parental controls" to learn how to access these features.

Take the time to set up some content filters for your children today. Kids are naturally curious and won't filter content for themselves. Viewing portrayals of risky behavior can make it seem "normal" when it is not the norm. Often, the reality of negative consequences is left out, leaving kids with a skewed impression of normal standards of behavior, as well as unresolved questions and emotions about the implications of explicit content that they don't fully grasp.
 

Other Parenting Tips

  • Maintain open communication with your child about technology use, regularly asking your child about his or her computer activities.
  • Follow the suggested age minimums for social media. Most tools like Instagram and Snapchat don't allow children under age 13 to join.
  • Ask to get a tour of the sites your child visits.
  • Proactively set guidelines for computer use at your house, as well as when they are with friends. Print off, discuss, and sign a Common Sense Family Media Agreement.
  • Google family members to be aware of your cyber footprint online. Set up a Google Alert for each family member for free.
  • Anything we do or post online creates a digital record, often called your "Digital Footprint." Nothing online is totally private, even if you intend it to be. Once digitized, it can be saved, sent and reposted elsewhere.
  • A good rule of thumb: If you don’t want a parent, teacher, principal, future employer or college admissions office to know something, don’t post it online. Ask yourself, "Would Grandma approve?"
  • "Friends" aren’t always who they say they are; undercover police and pedophiles pretend to be kids online. Encourage your child to only be friends online with individuals they have met in person.
  • Be cautious when posting personal information online. This includes: full name, address, phone number, email, cell phone, checking in on social media sites, where you are meeting friends or where you hang out. Discuss how easy it is for someone to find you based on what you post online.
  • Regularly check privacy settings on all commonly used sites and networks. Ignoring privacy settings on sites like Instagram and Facebook means your photos, contact information, interests, and possibly even cell phone number and GPS location could be shared with more than a billion people.
  • Cyberbullying (threatening or harassing another individual through technology), is a growing concern for today’s youth. It takes many forms, such as forwarding a private email, photo, or text message for others to see, starting a rumor, or sending a threatening or aggressive message, often anonymously. Talk with your child about not partaking in this behavior, and encourage her/him to report it to an adult. Some videos online to help kids understand this include Ad Council Commercials Talent Show (Elementary and Middle School Students) or Kitchen (High School Students), as well as NetSmartz.org’s videos.
  • Know your child’s passwords. This enables you to gain access to their e-mail, social networking sites, etc. in case of an emergency.