Parent Tech Coffee Morning: Living with Laptops

Note: this session runs several times a year at YIS.

We can all relate to the struggle to balance our many devices, from mobiles, to  laptops, to kindles, to iPods, and everything that comes next, so this time for focused conversation was perfect.  Along with our wonderful parent community, Mr. Clark, Ms. Cofino and Mr. Hamda were there to help share ideas and practices that have worked (as well as those that haven’t). We had a very productive session, and developed tons of great ideas to help our children build and maintain a healthy and well-balanced lifestyle. This session was also run last school year, at the request of parents. We’ll host it again later in the year!

We started our session with a brief presentation, highlighting the big ideas to be discussed:

A few of the key points we discussed:

Although many of the tools we use to connect and communicate have changed, what we’re doing with them is very similar to more “old school” methods – like passing notes in class, or reading under the covers at night, or talking on the phone.

For some reason, it seems that when children (or adults) are using technology tools, we are reluctant to interrupt them. We have developed a kind of societal norm that “laptop space” must be private space. Adam shared a story about being hesitant to ask his son, in fourth grade, to show him what he was doing on the laptop, simply because it was a laptop – even though he’s the parent, he bought the computer, and it was actually his wife’s laptop.

Even though we already have great strategies, as parents (and teachers), to help children manage their time and responsibilities well, sometimes it’s challenging to remember to apply those strategies in this new context, because of the perceived privacy norms.

Although the idea of chatting, sharing, and interacting with peer groups is not new, perhaps the greatest difference is the visibility of the activities – which can be perceived in two ways:

  1. Technology as more visible: In the “old school” context, when children spent time hanging out at places like Gigi’s, their parents might not know really what was happening, and any mistakes made could be forgotten with time. It was almost like those mistakes and behavior were invisible. In contrast, today’s “hang out” space is often online, where every action is visible and permanent.
  2. Technology as less visible: In the “old school” context, when children hang out and chat at home, their friends are there, so parents can see and hear what they’re doing. However, with technology, children can be “hanging out” in a common space in the house, but parents can’t actually see or hear anything, since it’s all on the computer. In this sense, the technology almost makes the behavior “invisible”.

It’s important to remember that all of the adults in our children’s lives are role models. The behavior they see being modeled as adults is behavior they are implicitly being told is appropriate. At Parent Teacher Student Conferences yesterday, there were long rows of students on their mobile phones, sitting next to their parents, typing away on their mobile phones.

Although it sounds too simple, we see in the classroom that by clearly stating specific expectations and setting clear boundaries, students are much more likely to follow those directions. In contrast, if we allow expectations to be more implicit, it’s so much easier for students to ignore those unstated “understandings”.

In the end, we’re working towards each student developing their own self control, and an appropriate level of balance that works for them and their family. To do so, we would like to work as a team: parents, school and students.

In order to help get an idea of what students are thinking and feeling about these topics, Mr. Clark recorded some great discussions with students all across the middle and high school:

Our focus for the meeting was to develop as many strategies as possible to help support a healthy balanced lifestyle. Some of the ways that we’re doing this at school are:

  • All students sign a Responsible Use Policy, which highlights the importance of balance and responsibility
  • To help clearly define the expectations for balance (and to set clear boundaries), no laptops are allowed at break, and laptop use is only allowed in the CLC workroom during lunch (otherwise students are not allowed to use their laptops during lunch.
  • To get started well, we had two full days of orientation at the beginning of the school year where we discussed the Responsible Use Policy, Digital Citizenship and Balance at length in a variety of contexts, as an introduction to our CLC. We also had a mandatory parent information session for middle school parents and all middle and high school students (voluntary for high school parents).
  • We have an overarching Digital Citizenship curriculum, called Digital Dragons, which is currently being taught through Humanities in middle school.
  • After Spring Break, we’ll have a Digital Citizenship Week, when we revisit the major themes of the Responsible Use Policy through a variety of activities and discussions.
  • Our Student Tech Team regularly produces short video tutorials, to highlight important aspects of effectively using the laptops. Recently, they highlighted a number of productivity apps like “Self Control” which was one of the ways that students could help manage distractions.
  • We’re implementing homework calendars in all middle school tutor groups, where all major assessments will be added as events in a shared calendar for each tutor group. Parents and students can then subscribe to these calendars to have the reminders pop up on their mobile devices.
  • We’re developing a digital student planner to help students manage their assignments in an efficient way.
  • All of these topics are important points of discussion within our Tutor program at all grade levels.

Once we had an idea of the support structures in place at school, we spent the rest of the meeting developing similar structures for the home in small groups. Here are the strategies we developed:

Setting Limits:

  • Set time limit per day for total screen time, and gradually allow the child more control over how they allocate that time.
  • Set a specific time, or set of times, when the computer can be used.
  • No computer use after a certain time.
  • No technology at the dinner table.

Developing Time Management:

Take Advantage of Tech Breaks: Research shows that knowing you have specific time set aside to check social networking sites actually helps students focus better, so Dr. Larry Rosen recommends 25 minutes of homework time, then 5 minutes of a tech break, then study again.

Family Agreements:


  • regular monitoring of comments made/received
  • checking the history regularly

Regular and open conversations with your child are always the best way to make these strategies successful.

Some further resources:

Thanks to all the parents that attended today’s session! See you next time!


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